By Rebecca Pratt, President and Co-Founder
Claude is a little boy who we recently prevented from being sold as a slave in rural Benin, West Africa. Upon rescuing Claude and attempting to get him enrolled into school and on our feeding program, we realized he had no birth certificate. This is a necessary piece of paperwork for a child to be able to attend school and because his parents do not read or write, Claude did not exist anywhere on paper.
If sold he would have never been missed, because in a legal sense, his existence was never recorded in society.
Our Anti-Trafficking team consulted with relatives to find out the spelling of his last name so he would not lose his family connection. The spelling of his first and middle names had to be created from scratch, based on the oral pronunciations. This same process had to be done to determine his birthdate as well, since no one seemed to remember what month or year this little guy was born in. Little did we know what a common occurrence this would become with every rescued child.
Although the underlying causes for unrecognized children across the continent of Africa are numerous and complicated, a driving force is the inability of parents to read and write. Literacy rates for the population within Benin fall below 50 percent, and in the rural regions where Orphan Relief and Rescue works specifically, that number is significantly lower. For every child who joins our program, the parents sign a contract using their fingerprint stating that they will never attempt to sell a child again. Now that Claude is on our program, his parents have agreed to our terms by signing the document with their fingerprint. From the moment we obtain a birth certificate for each child on our program, he or she can no longer simply disappear without consequence, and we have given them an opportunity to gain their own identity. This gives them legitimacy and meaning within their families and society.