Every year hundreds of undocumented children are born in Kuwait. Some are born out of wedlock – a crime in this conservative Muslim country. Some are born to low earning parents who either cannot afford to sponsor children due to low salaries or because they are living and working illegally here. Among the highest numbers of undocumented children are Filipino children due to the large Filipino population in the country.
In 2018, 484 undocumented Filipino children were repatriated from Kuwait Philippines. Only a small percentage of these are born out of wedlock, explains Victoria Navida, an attache at the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait who works under the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), an agency attached to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). “A majority of those 484 children were born here legally; however, due to circumstances within their families, for example some of their parents were laid off or their contracts expired, so automatically the children’s residencies were affected,” Navida told Kuwait Times.
Navida said another reason for children becoming illegal is because sometimes the parents’ salary is lower than the KD 450 cap set by the Kuwaiti government. “They are unable to renew their children’s visas if there are issues of the salary cap,” she explained.
In Kuwait, it’s illegal for unmarried couples to live together. However a woman who delivers in hospital without being married can face jail time and will certainly be arrested. So some illegal couples resort to extreme methods like abortion or giving birth at home. “Aside from illegal abortions, the most practical solution for an unmarried pregnant woman is to leave Kuwait,” a Filipino community leader told Kuwait Times on the condition of anonymity.
“I have witnessed many Filipino couples in Kuwait who faced several issues related to illegal relationships. Most of them marry immediately to avoid getting jailed. I have even helped to cut the umbilical cord of a baby because a woman gave birth inside a flat and could not be taken to the hospital because she was unmarried. If an unmarried woman gives birth in a hospital, she can be arrested and put in solitary confinement until the trial is complete.” she said.
Expatriate workers can get married in Kuwait, provided they meet the civil and religious requirements of their home countries. Embassy and consulate staff can perform civil marriage ceremonies. Peter (not his real name) is a married man from the Philippines. He has a child with his first wife. After he came to Kuwait, he felt lonely and began a relationship with a household worker in early 2000. They eventually got married in a Muslim ceremony in 2005. They had a child, but since Peter was unable to obtain a visa for them (due to the salary cap issue), he had to send them home during an amnesty. Peter once again felt lonely, so he got “married” for the third time. “I found a new partner and got a fake marriage certificate from someone. I now have three kids with my new wife,” he said.
Navida detailed four categories of undocumented children assisted by the embassy with the help of her office: (1) Totally abandoned – left by one of the parents or left homeless because their parents have been arrested by the authorities; (2) Illegitimate children of parents who are not legally married; (3) Children whose parents do not meet the required salary cap set by Kuwait; and (4) Children whose parents were laid off from work or have no job at all.
Repatriated children are assisted from the time they seek help from the embassy to the last stage of their journey back home. “Normally, our embassy advises parents to accompany their minors if they are sent back to Manila. The Assistance to Nationals Unit (ATNU) and DSWD office in Kuwait jointly help to secure their repatriation. When the parents are not able to provide plane tickets, we request the department back home to shoulder the cost of the tickets. At the airport in Manila, they will be received by our personnel and given transport money so they can go back to their provinces if they are living outside Manila. Through our intervention, we also assist children so they are accepted in schools back home,” Navida said.
In Kuwait, these undocumented children are usually denied a formal education as they are not accepted in any school if they have no residency permit. The repatriation program, which has been going on for years now, takes place on a regular basis. Navida explained the step-by-step process by the embassy to repatriate undocumented Filipino children.
“Parents normally come to us seeking help. If their child was born without medical intervention, usually they have no birth certificate or record. We advise parents to report the circumstances of the birth of their child to the department handling records of births in Kuwait. They will ask for an affidavit from the parents, who will be summoned by the police for fingerprinting. The parents should also provide six photographs of the minor. The photos will be forwarded by the embassy to the ministry of interior – an interview of the parents will follow to investigate the birth. They should wait for the result of the investigation, which normally takes weeks. If there is no untoward record, the child will be allowed to leave. But the authorities here are very strict when the fathers are Arabs, especially Kuwaiti, because they will never allow a child of a Kuwaiti man to leave Kuwait,” Navida said.
The program to repatriate undocumented Filipino children has been possible through the help of the ministry of interior. Navida advises parents of undocumented children to always cooperate and consider the welfare of these kids. “I call upon parents of undocumented children to always consider their kids’ welfare. We are here tasked by the government to help. Do not delay the repatriation for your children’s sake. Bring them to our attention and we will assist you till the end. Without our endorsement, no approval will be given by the authorities, so I urge you to come and coordinate with us with regards to your undocumented children. Do not be afraid because we are doing our best for all our fellow kababayans. Do not worry, we will not hand you over to the authorities – we will accompany you so you won’t get into trouble,” she assured.
By Ben Garcia