Certificate of Existence

by Delta Donohue / Sep 22, 2009 / 0 comments

Imagine….. Imagine that you didn’t legally exist; that you couldn’t participate in the rights and privileges due to each citizen. This is the status for many, perhaps most, of the 18 million children living on the streets of India.


A few weeks ago I received an email from my friend and business partner, Jaimala Gupta. She, and her husband Hitesh, run the NGO Vatsalya in Jaipur, India. One of their primary missions is working with orphaned, abandoned or destitute children; those vulnerable ones that need our help the very most. To further this mission they have opened Udayan – a children’s village. They currently have around 60 children and provide a wonderful environment for the kids to go to school, learn a trade and most importantly to feel loved and valued.


In her email, Jaimala told me that she had gone in front a local administrative official. She was seeking to be named as legal custodian for 24 children. These children range in age from 3 – 17. For orphaned children, a thorough search is always done, involving the police department to verify that these children have no living parents. As part of seeking custodianship, she tells the magistrate the age and birth date for each child. For most, a birth date is assigned utilizing any scrap of information that can be found, and the age is estimated. At the end of the appearance, Jaimala was granted custodianship for all 24 children and received a Certificate of Existence for each child.




Her email stayed in my thoughts and heart for several days.


I picture the child, born to illiterate parents living in the slums who struggled daily to survive.  Because many of these parents seem to have little interest in registering their child at birth, the State never learns of their existence. Perhaps they are just too consumed with the burden of their daily existence to take the time, or perhaps they don’t understand the value.


Imagine being around 15 years old – an orphan who has lived on the streets for several years. You have no papers and no idea if there ever were any papers. You don’t know your birthday and only a guess at your age. Legally you don’t exist. Should you have the determination and amazing good fortune to rise up, beyond your poverty, you have no way to apply for legitimate jobs. You can’t open a bank account or get a driver’s license. Because the Government doesn’t recognize your existence, you will have no access to any of the rights and privileges due to a citizen. You don’t exist.


That day, in front of the official, 24 children came into being. There is now proof of their existence. The previous year, Jaimala received these Certificates for 9 other children. 33 children now have access to basic rights that we all take for granted. I look forward to her next email telling me about more and more children that have been recognized. I look forward to the day when all children, in all countries around the world, receive the full rights, freedom and protection due them.


Our Voices from India Editors have written about Vatsalya here on Wandering Educators.


Delta Donohue is the co-Editor of Voices from India.