We take so many things for granted here in the United States, among them a little piece of paper documenting births. But millions of people across the world do not have birth certificates.
Their existence is not documented. They are often unable to access benefits, including life-saving medicines.
In many places, a person lacking a birth certificate cannot marry, vote, get a good job, obtain a passport or register their own children’s births.
They are invisible, really.
I know what it feels like. I don’t have a birth certificate.
I was only a few days old when I left on the steps of a Calcutta orphanage. My world changed when my parents adopted me and gave me a life I could never have even dreamed of as an orphan.
My father took out a small newspaper ad announcing to the world that he was claiming me as his daughter. If anyone had an objection, this was their time to speak. That was how the law worked back in 1962 in India.
I grew up without that essential birth document. Nor did I have an adoption certificate. I didn’t think about it until the day I faced a U.S. immigration officer in Jacksonville, Florida, during an interview for a green card.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “you don’t exist.”
I felt small. Unwanted.
An international charity called Plan has been working hard to make sure that fewer people feel invisible. So far they have enabled 40 million people in 32 countries gain access to documents.
“A birth certificate gives you legal identity as a child or as an adult. It gives you a nationality and a sense of belonging,” Plan’s chief of global advocacy Nadya Kassam told CNN in a story posted online today.
The certificate, Kassam said, proves who you are.
I still don’t have a birth certificate ( I never will) but I am now a U.S. citizen and hold my new passport close to my heart. For me, it’s so much more than a travel document.
It just might be a lifesaver one day — my only proof that I exist.