[Main COI reference: Targeting, 12.4]
The lack of identity documentation equates to a lack of legal status of the child and impedes access to all services, including healthcare, education and humanitarian assistance.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child remarked in January 2019 that the lack of identity documentation was particularly critical in the areas out of the control of the GoS, where 25 % of adolescents did not have identity cards and a quarter of new-borns had not been registered since the beginning of the conflict.
The lack of documentation varies drastically across governorates. Whereas more than 8 out of 10 residents lack some official document in Idlib, almost the entire population in the governorates of Sweida and Homs was able to obtain the desired documentation (about 99 %). In Damascus governorate, around 5 % of the host community respondents surveyed indicated they or a family member were lacking official GoS-issued documentation. Lack of access to civil documentation was grave for the populations of Latakia, Tartous, and Raqqa (about 75 % for all three governorates) [Damascus, 2.5].
In 2017, sources indicated that outside of GoS-controlled areas, civil status offices have either stopped functioning or they operated outside the control of the government.
In recaptured areas, the GoS has not given priority to re-establishing the civil registration system. It was also reported that GoS has not devoted any special resources to recording births in opposition-held areas or transferring registrations from opposition governance bodies. The government’s policy was generally to reject opposition education records and civil registration records. Individuals were thus forced to redo everything through the government. Many individuals from former opposition-held areas are thus left in legal limbo.
Syrians living in opposition-held areas might obtain birth documents at the central civil registry office in Damascus, but they would be confronted with various obstacles such as having to cross the front line, with the associated risks involved: the risk of being arrested by pro-government forces after having entered a government-controlled area; men of conscription age running the specific risk of being arrested at government check points for evading military service; and women risking to become sexually assaulted at checkpoints. According to another source, Syrians in opposition-held areas may choose to give a third person in GoS-controlled area authorisation to apply and obtain a birth certificate, or use ‘intermediaries’ to obtain a birth certificate illegally ‘by means of bribery and a smuggling network’.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted that ‘although women have the same rights as men to register the births of their children, nationality is only transferred from the father and mothers therefore must struggle to register the births of their infants’. For children born out of wedlock, to parents in inter-faith marriages and those born as a result of sexual violence, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that they encountered difficulties in obtaining birth certificates.
The lack of documentation as consequence of the ongoing conflict cannot as such be considered persecution, as it is not the result of a third party’s deliberate actions. However, deliberate restrictions on access to documentation may amount to persecution.
Not all children would face the level of risk required to establish well-founded fear of persecution in relation to deliberate restrictions on access to documentation. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: deceased or missing fathers, being born out of wedlock or as a result of sexual violence, area of origin and residence, gender, poor socio-economic situation of the child and the family, IDP situation, member of a female-headed household, etc.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Where well-founded fear of persecution can be substantiated, the individual circumstances of the child should be taken into account to determine whether or not a nexus to a reason for persecution can be substantiated. For example, in the case of children born as a result of sexual violence, persecution may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group due to their common background that cannot be changed and the distinct identity of such children, implying being seen as illegitimate, in Syria.
See other topics concerning children: