• Sarah Gold, Daniah Al-Sadoon

Ninewa, IRAQ: During the conflict with Daesh, thousands of families were displaced from Iraq’s Ninewa Governorate. Many of them lost important documents – such as birth, marriage and nationality certificates – and, as a result, still face difficulties accessing basic services. For children without birth certificates, this reality is particularly complex, as they are required to go through an age determination process prior to securing their documentation. Securing the birth certificate and in turn the national ID is a prerequisite for children to be enrolled in schools. In Ninewa, this is no easy feat.

“Without the official documents, there is no proof that they are Iraqi citizens. Children will not be able to enroll in schools, adults will not be able to work or cross checkpoints – they can’t even [receive] the unified national card,” said Mr. Haitham Ahmed Yasin, Head of the Ninewa Directorate of Health’s (DoH) International Health Unit in Mosul. “Helping people know their real age is their right.”

Until recently, there was only one medical committee in Ninewa that carried out age determination assessments to support the issuance of civil and identity documents for children. The committee is in Mosul, and families living elsewhere in the governorate face long commutes and incur high costs in their efforts to reach the facility. Some face movement restrictions that prevent them from accessing the committee entirely. As a result, their children remain without access to formal education and other public services.

“Without a birth certificate, my daughter faced many problems,” says Hadeel, an IDP in Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate. Without a birth certificate, Hadeel’s daughter was unable to get an ID card and was therefore unable to enroll in school. “My daughter’s lack of ID card also restricted her movement between regions – we faced a lot of questions at the checkpoints," Hadeel continues. “I was very worried about her future.”

In a recent achievement gained through strong advocacy efforts, IOM obtained written approval from the Government of Iraq’s Ministry of Health and the Ninewa DoH to set up three medical committees at hospitals in the governorate’s Sinjar, Tel Afar and Ba’aj districts to increase the efficiency and reach of the document-issuing process for children. This is a major breakthrough for those like Hadeel who live outside of Mosul and will now have better access to this essential procedural step. This will in turn open the doors for their children to access public schooling, health care and more.

"The presence of a medical committee in Sinjar instead of [only] Mosul has helped us a lot, as it’s closer to where we live and has saved us transportation expenses,” Hadeel explains. She and her family live several hours from Mosul, in Sinjar’s Sardashti camp for displaced persons. “[The staff on the Sinjar medical committee] speak our language. This made things easier for us since we don’t know how to speak Arabic. This will help other families in the future in cases similar to my daughter’s.”

With support from IOM’s legal team, Hadeel was able to complete an age determination process and secure civil documentation for her daughter. “My child’s age was determined through x-rays and other exercises carried out by the medical committee. They also asked us questions to make sure that she is ours,” she details. “After obtaining proof of parentage through the age determination process, it became possible for my daughter to obtain a civil ID and all other documents. She became eligible to enroll in school like the rest of the children and receive health and other services that require identification papers. The [new committee] saved us time, effort and transportation costs.”

“We’ve disrupted a Catch-22,” says IOM Iraq Chief of Mission, Mr. Giorgi Gigauri. “These children and their families have long needed to cross checkpoints to reach the age determination committees that facilitate the issuance of birth certificates and in turn ID cards – but ID cards are required to cross the checkpoints. The opening of three new committees in Ninewa helps to address this barrier, expanding access to these processes and bringing Iraq one step closer to realizing its commitments under the Global Compact for Migration to protect and fulfill the human rights of mobile populations, and children in particular.”

IOM works not only to increase the number of civil documentation access points available to these families, but also to see that those operating these access points are technically equipped to do so. IOM also held a training for doctors from hospitals in Sinjar, Tel Afar and Ba’aj districts in age determination through X-Ray technology for individuals ranging from newborns to 60-year-olds, led by experts in the field of forensic medicine. The participants also engaged in debate around the medical and legal dimensions of the age determination process, touching on topics such as proof of parentage and the role of courts.

IOM’s legal program continues to work in service of the right to civil documentation across the country.

These efforts were made possible by support from the Government of Australia.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities