The conversation surrounding the fact that Jamaica needs a proper universal identification system has been long and rife with politics. All of that aside, I fully support this position. I’m even more convinced it should be mandatory and sooner rather than later. As far as I am concerned, I have given my biometric data to Google, Apple and the United States already. Who even know what they’ve done with it. But technology is the way of the world, and I’m in it, for better or for worse. There is no escaping it, especially because I have plans and dreams that transcends geographic boundaries. Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to travel the world ( at least, I did before the catastrophe that is COVID19), so I am/was fully prepared to give that information to other counties as well. The country that I was born and raised in having it is no issue to me. I am not a criminal, and as the world we live in becomes more and more technologically dependent, as a nation, we should be able to equally identify our citizens; for the good the bad and the ugly. But that’s not why we are here. Let’s get on with the story.
My Parents Tried their Best
First, my background. I was born at the Spanish Town Hospital in the 80s. My parents were 20 and 21 years old at the time of my birth and from Bog Walk, St. Catherine where I grew up. My mom, didn’t finish high school and my dad graduated, but there ended his academic development. I had a good childhood. It wasn’t privileged or anything, but good. I had all the basics. We lived in an old crooked house later on and small one bedroom apartments before that, but I was never hungry. I had new uniforms, shoes, school bags and ribbons in my hair every September. All or most of my textbooks were bought. I went on all my class trips (provided they weren’t to the beach) and to fairs I wanted to go to. I had Barbies, roller blades, what seemed like an endless supply of clothes and when my dad brought home the grocery bags every Friday evening and I would sprint to swipe on the those snack-sized boxes of milk and go drink it around the back before my parent or my ‘beggy beggy’ little sister saw me. She could have the other snacks, but the milk was mine. My mother would scrub us down on Sundays with a good wash from hair to toes (emphasis on scrubbing the toes because God forbid we had any dirty toes or nails) outside at the pipe stand. We wore chiney bumps (Bantu knots) on Sundays and got our hair plaited or cornrowed for the school week ahead.
All that to say, my life as a child was good. I was taken care of.
Fast forward, to high school. As I moved through the system and my personality developed, like every child, I had dreams. I had role models. My three aunts who are my Dad’s sisters, went all the way with academics, went on to University and migrated. One particular aunt, the middle one, has been in school from the time I have been self-aware til now. I kid you not ( and please don’t think I’m exaggerating here), the woman has more degrees than an oven gauge! And she’s still at it. She was the aunt that would bring up school and grades every time you saw her, first and everything else last. That was enough to encourage and instil ambition in me. Plus, my clique in school had similar stories, from poorer backgrounds with dreams of at the very least having a UWI degree and a family house, etc. Finished high school now, went on to sixth form because that’s how you get to UWI right? You need CAPE. Cool. So I found a program (It was Physiotherapy btw), applied and everything in my final sixth form year and went on to the next step. To apply for a student loan.
Now, this is where the nightmare starts. I’m 18 years old. Student Loan tells me I need legal identification and at this point, I have none. I have a TRN, an NIS I learned I needed only because a potential employers asked for it, but no government issued ID. More or less because my parent didn’t really realize the implications, but everyone knows you need a TRN right? So I had one. Plus, by then I’d had a few summer jobs. So, I go to the electoral office in an attempt to secure a Voter’s ID. I’m told I wouldn’t receive it til eight months later. That’s too late.
Okay, next option. A passport. I go with my mother and I’m told her being there means nothing. I am legally an adult, and my birth certificate, the one where they wrote in the information by hand (that’s how they did it back then) needs to be updated (to the blue one) before I can apply for the passport. Now, time isn’t on my side, but it’s doable. We make the application to Registrar General Department (RGD) and apply for express service. The express time comes and goes. Normal processing time comes and goes. No birth certificate. Weeks pass, then months. Still no birth certificate. RGD has no information to give me. I don’t know what to do. Then they finally tell me they are unable to find my birth record. They tell me I need to make another application. I need JP to sign appears and pictures. Pay more. I do it. I apply, I pay; for express service again. Again, express time period comes and goes. Normal processing time comes and goes.
At this point I’ve missed the application period and it is clear there be no going to UWI for me that year, and make no mistake, UWI was the dream. Thats’s where the youngest of my three aunts went, and I wanted to go too. I’m crushed. Frustrated. The school year started and I still had no birth certificate, no information and I was working as a promoter for Johnson & Johnson on weekends. That’s all I have to fill my days. It was good money then, for a teen without responsibilities, but wanted to be doing more. To be pursuing more. I’m heartbroken. This was the earlier times life gave me a true kick me in the butt. My plan was stalled. My friends continued on without me. And I was left in my home town, truly fearful I would be a statistic (with a child and stalled in a small town) with so little to give my attention to.Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just hadn’t seen much of anything by then, and I wanted to SEE.
To pass time, I mom-ed with my youngest sibling; getting her ready for kindergarten and putting her on the bus. I’d go tidy up, read a novel and pretty much just wait to hear the bus come back with her.
I Was An Alien
Finally, months later, RGD gets back to me. They’ve located the records and the results are shocking. I was born at the Spanish Town Hospital, but when my mom left, she hadn’t decided on a name yet. So they put in a place-holder name; Baby [Insert Mother’s Maiden Name]. But, when my mother decided to name me, she was encouraged to do in the community when a representative was there, rather than go back to the hospital. Whatever mistakes or miscommunication took place that lead to that, instead of updating my original birth record, a new record was created. So here I was, 18 years old as RGD tells me that since there are two records of my birth, the second is illegal and null and void. I was effectively, and always had been up until that point, according to the state of Jamaica, nameless and only recognised as Baby [Insert Mother’s Maiden Name]), the first born child of [Insert Mother’s Name]. I laughed until I nearly cried. All my school certificates, CXC and CAPE certificates had a name, but, legally, I was well and truly a nameless alien. I couldn’t even pick a new name, that would invalidate what records I did already have under that name.
Now here is the kicker, the onus was mine (the 18 year-old alien) to PROVE who I was. (Laugh nuh!) I need signed affidavits, JP certifications, Mother’s records, fathers records, sibling records, primary and high school records, to PROVE to the Government Mandated Records Management Agency that I was in fact the person who is nameless. I cannot make this up.
I do that, I pay. Because, I’d reapplied to UWI, hoping to enrol the next school year. I still need a passport, I still need that loan. Weeks go by again, and nothing. Then, the bomb is dropped. In order to be named, I must make a new application to name myself. I must pay, again. I even do the application to add my Dad’s name, and pay for it, because I must do that separately. This time, I forgo the express part (or they admit they can’t do it. Don’t remember).
Months later, barely making the Student loan deadline and still yet to get a passport, I finally receive my birth certificate. Would you believe me if I told you, I wasn’t even able to enjoy having a name in peace because as luck would have it RGD DID NOT add my Dad’s name. The service I paid for! I called to report the error and was emphatically told, “Well! You’re just gonna have to apply (and) pay for it again if you want that.”
By now, the experience I’d had with them and how they handled the entire thing made me vow not even to die, because I didn’t want them having to do anything with my name at that place. When I got married, I got online the SAME NIGHT, and applied for express service. The whole thing gave me anxiety until I received the document. When my daughter was to be named, we had a full name walking into that hospital and when the representative asked her name and I said I was going to write it down she huffed and said “Just tell the name Miss!”. Man, I was lit, drugged up and in no mood with a fresh cut to the abdomen. I said the name and watched her write the foolishness, then stared her dead in the face and said, “That is NOT the correct spelling. And if you think you’re about to name my child what you feel like versus the name I want her to have, you’re gonna have a ROUGH morning!” She all but grabbed the paper, which was okay, so long as she wrote the correct thing on the paper she handed me.
Fast forward RGD claimed the birth certificate would be in the mail in 6 weeks. Six weeks later, nothing. Anxiety. I need that birth certificate if I was to add her to bank accounts and get her that passport, because come hell or high water, my baby would have an ID. I called after three months and was told their record said it was at the Spanish Town office. They gave me a reference number and the date it arrived there and everything. I go to RGD, wait around patiently for about four hours WITH MY BABY, only to get to the front of the line and watch this guy search for two whole minutes, before coming back to tell me with chest that, “It’s not ready. It’s not here.” I told him I had called and was told it was, and tried to offer the information I had written down. But, he wasn’t interested and caught an attitude. But y’all know me, right? As luck would have it, it was only after I became LOUD and told him I wasn’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t serving anyone else til I got what I came for that he took the paper and come back about a minute later with it. One minute. I kid you not. Now, you know I stood right there, opened it and perused it for errors while he attempted to tell me to step aside. If looks could kill. When I was good and done, I said “Thank you, sir.” and left.
I Support a Need for a MANDATORY national identification system
All that babbling to say, my story is one of hundreds of thousands and I do not believe it to be even close to being the worst. I also have more stories, INCLUDING whole catastrophe the I tried to renew said passport! Other stories that are as recent as two years ago. I even tried to save my sisters the same fate, and one still got caught in the trap of being 18 and ‘identification-less’. You see, I had to ‘adult’ correctly on my own very early. Getting bank accounts, learning about the system, financial management, etc. I also have an aggressive, ‘don’t play with me’ attitude to foolishness that has served me well in certain situations. As a mother now, these things won’t befall my child because I know what to do, but many people still don’t. Some people don’t have that knowledge or the experience. For some people, it will take them longer, often causing them to miss opportunities they cannot afford to miss, or cause the need to scramble when the situation calls for it. A voter’s ID, is not mandatory. A driver’s licence is not mandatory, and a passport is not mandatory. All three are what is required when business entities say they want a government issued ID. Additionally, a passport sized picture signed by a Justice of the Peace is not always sufficient, and even worse, not everyone knows a JP, so that method is a farce too.
I will never not support a fully mandatory identification system being implemented locally. As it stands, such a system will take years if not decades to be fully implemented. Whatever ID system we come up with MUST be mandatory if it is going to work. This is about more than politics. This is about more than your selfish individual right. If we want a better Jamaica, we must be willing to compromise certain ‘comforts’.
That’s it guys. Until next time. Stay safe!