Only nine per cent of ethnic Vietnamese children in communities of almost 5,000 people in Kampong Chhnang province attend state schools due to a lack of birth certificates, a new report has found, with researchers saying that their findings reflect a situation that is all too common in the Kingdom.
According to Limbo on Earth: The Situation of Stateless Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. A Case Study from Kampong Chhnang, released yesterday by the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO), interviews with community leaders, residents and local officials at two floating villages in Phsar Chhnang commune found that 90 per cent of ethnic Vietnamese living there possess no birth certificates, family books or ID cards.
Despite all villagers having been born in Cambodia and not possessing any Vietnamese identification, the vast majority of the 931 families have “only … immigration cards and resident papers to prove that their residence in Cambodia is legal”, the report says, with citizenship out of reach for those who can’t afford to bribe officials.
According to MIRO, just nine per cent of more than 2,000 ethnic Vietnamese children living in the villages attend state schools due to a combination of “overwhelming poverty” and because a birth certificate is required for school enrolment.
“This is the most important issue for the Cambodian government to address.… All children should be able to go to school. They should provide birth certificates for all of them,” said MIRO director Ang Chanrith.
A Jesuit Refugee Service report released last year found that the lack of legal clarity for laws governing access to citizenship has left many ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia at risk of statelessness.
It made several recommendations, including expanding universal birth registration.
Legal provisions allow immigrants to register their children’s births with commune officials where they legally reside, but “law enforcement is particularly weak” in this area, the report says.
“This contradiction highlights the arbitrary application of the law, lack of knowledge by authorities of the laws in place, and discriminatory practices at local levels.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government recognised that problems existed with the implementation of relevant laws.
“I think in this term they are going to look into that better because any baby born on Cambodian soil deserves to be a Cambodian citizen,” he said, adding that the government recognised the constitutional right to universal education.