Thirteen-year-old Shabnam had big dreams for herself when she started going to school; she dreamt of studying hard, getting a job and find a way out of the slum she and her family live in at Pallabi in Dhaka.
Her dream life seems to be out of reach now as she has been sitting at home for two months, unable to go to school because she owes her school three months' fees.
“The school authorities are not allowing her to attend classes since we have not been able to pay Tk900,” Shabnam's mother Baby Begum told the Dhaka Tribune.
Shabnam's father Md Mokarram works in a small RMG business where he earns Tk3,000 a month. Shabnam is the couple's third child.
When asked why she had not enrolled her daughter to a government school, the dejected mother said: “Because they ask for Tk300-400 for birth registration. We will have to go without food for two days to pay that fee.”
It was strange to hear that birth registration requires a payment, since the government issued an order on January 15, 2015 for the authorities concerned to register the births of slum and street children free of charge.
But a number of families besides Shabnam's at New Kurmitola slum in Pallabi complained about the authorities charging money for the registration, when the Dhaka Tribune visited the slum recently.
This correspondent met another 13-year-old named Md Mamun, who goes to a private school during the day and works at a small RMG factory in his neighbourhood at night.
“I work to pay my school fees and to collect the money for birth registration,” he said.
According to the local ward commissioner's office, at least 10,000 families live in New Kurmitola slum, of whom nearly 1,000 are under 18.
It is not just education that is getting hampered because of this problem.
Meherunnesa, another resident of the slum, said her daughter Sabiha's marriage almost broke off two months ago because she did not have a birth registration number.
“The groom's family left the ceremony when the kazi told us that the marriage cannot be registered without the bride and groom's birth registration numbers. Later, with the help of some NGO workers in our locality, my daughter got her birth registered on an urgent basis for Tk300 at the city corporation,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Addressing this issue, Suriya Zannat, child protection officer at World Vision, a charity organisation for children, told the Dhaka Tribune that a number of children in the slum are dropping out of school because they cannot get birth registration number that the government schools ask for, and they cannot afford going to private schools.
“We contacted the local city corporation officials regarding the government order of free registration for slum and street children, but have yet to get proper response,” she said.
Asked about it, Sazzad Hossain, Ward 2 councillor in Mirpur, said: “There are no pending applications on my desk as I complete all formalities as soon as possible when residents of my area send in their applications.”
The Dhaka Tribune also contacted Md Nayeb Ali, zonal executive officer at Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) for Zone 2, which Mirpur and Pallabi, in this regard.
He said: “Birth registration is not part of my responsibility. The health officer of Zone 2 is in charge of it.”
The Dhaka Tribune then contacted Dr Mahmuda Ali, the health officer at the Urban Primary Health Care Services Delivery Project of the DNCC. She admitted that there are indeed some problems regarding birth registration of street and slum children in her area.
“I recently joined my station here at Zone 2. There has been some complaints regarding the free birth registration, but I am working to sort them out. I have asked all the applicants to submit their documents for the registration. I will personally make sure that the registrations are done properly,” she said.
The visit to the New Kurmitola slum was organised by bssinfotainment, funded by World Vision and AusAID.