The boy who doesn't exist

May 11, 2017
By Silva Boncutiu; Edited by Leanna Cappiello

Matei is 14 years old, born in August, 2002. At least, that’s what his parents told him. But there is no way to know for sure, since he wasn’t registered at birth. To the government, Matei doesn’t exist. And because he doesn't exist, he has no rights.

His parents often traveled from town to town selling rugs for a living. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they didn’t have the permanent address needed to acquire identification papers. If parents aren’t registered, their child can’t be registered either.

Eva, Matei’s grandmother and primary caretaker, says her biggest concern is that child protection services will come to take him away. She is desperate to keep custody of all her grandkids, “We take very good care of all our children, we send them to school and help in every possible way. Now we only need the money to pay the taxes for the birth certificate,” says Eva. The tax, about $150 USD, is more than the family earns per month on carpet sales, but World Vision is helping the family with financial assistance.

Not only are there safety ramifications for Matei’s lack of identity, but also social ones. “Here, everybody makes fun of me. Children tell me that I don’t exist and that they can do anything to me because I don’t matter.”

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“I would like to go to high school,” Matei says. His dream is to be able to take his driving test, which requires a basic level of literacy, or about eight years of schooling. Driving as an occupation is a common way for Romanian men to earn income, so many families allow boys go to school for this reason.

Today, Matei is in the seventh grade and his favourite subjects are English and Romanian. He likes to read and has a very good vocabulary. But his education moving forward is uncertain.

“My teacher and school principal ask for my birth certificate every month,” he says. “Unfortunately, I never managed to solve this problem... I won’t be able to finish sixth grade without the ID papers,” he explains. Matei is only permitted to attend school because he is a good student.

Currently, World Vision staff is working closely with the family to try help get Matei a birth certificate. The hope is that with his papers, more doors will open for the young boy.​

Legally, Matei can’t go to school or be treated in a hospital. He needs surgery to correct a problem with his tongue that affects his speech, but without a birth certificate, he can't claim the healthcare he needs. He’s never received his allowance from the state - around $20 USD a month - money that would help him buy school supplies, medicine or clothes.