On paper, the rules are simple: the birth certificate is issued by the Greater Chennai Corporation while the Community Certificate is under the jurisdiction of the local Taluk office. Street families, for whom documents are not the primary concern, face immense difficulty in accessing these vital documents for their children – if they are keen to enrol their wards in a private school under the RTE criteria.
“For RTE eligibility, four documents are required – Aadhaar card, birth certificate, parental income certificate and community certificate, to be uploaded online for enrolment. Street families miss out on this because they don’t have either a birth or community certificates. Though more than 70% of the street families fall under Scheduled Caste (SC), it is difficult to claim due to lack of ancestral record as the parents themselves don’t have their birth certificates,” said Paul Sunder Singh, founder of Karunalaya, an NGO which works with street families.
For most street families who struggle for a hand-to-mouth existence, documentation is the least of their concern. “Often, families lose their documents during monsoons or disasters. They don’t think about registering the birth with the Corporation within a year, as stipulated. In a few cases, some don’t remember the child’s birth date, making it extremely difficult to access documentation,” said Bhuvaneshwari M, an activist working with street families.
Though most births are institutional, there are exceptions. Vikram (name changed), son of a domestic worker in Thiruvanmiyur, was born at home. Since Vikram studied in a government school, he didn’t require certification initially. Now the child, who is seeking admission to Class 6, requires birth and community certificates to enrol in a high school. Vikram has an Aadhaar card but since his birth wasn’t registered, he had to submit a fresh affidavit to the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) and only if that is approved, can the Corporation issue the certificate. The long procedure forces many street families to abandon their pursuit of these crucial documents.
Getting a community certificate – especially the Scheduled Caste category – is extremely difficult. “Earlier, if one family member had a community certificate, we could get it for the entire family. Now, even if one child has a community certificate, using that to get the same certificate for the sibling requires immense paperwork. This involves submission of a local investigation form and ration card of five people in the locality, attesting that the person is from the SC community living in this location for a particular duration. Following an inquiry by revenue inspector, a certificate will be issued,” added Bhuvaneshwari.
For children enrolled at a Corporation-run school at the kindergarten level, no documents are required. “We can guide the child’s family to get the birth and community certificate,” added a Corporation official.
D Saravanan, district child protection officer for Chennai, said that an initiative is under way to ensure street children are issued with the requisite services. “We are working with the Collectorate and the Social Defence Office to ensure that all street children are issued with the important certificates,” added the official.