Scrap unconstitutional ID law: experts

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Identification documents (IDs) are a fundamental right of all citizens and any law that denies it to any citizen is unconstitutional and should be amended, legal experts say.

They say that a government decree with confusing regulations on issuing IDs for young adults with mental disorders needs to be changed.

The unconstitutional nature of the decree was highlighted after many citizens with Down Syndrome were unable to obtain their personal papers.

"The Constitution and the Civil Code don't distinguish people with mental illness and impairment of cognitive ability from others in terms of citizen's rights. All citizens have the same rights for obtaining personal papers like birth certificates, IDs and household registration," Nguyen Van Tien, a lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City Law University, told Thanh Nien.

"To ensure citizen's rights, the Decree 05/1999 should be amended to comply with the Constitution and Civil Code," he said.

Under the current decree, all Vietnamese citizens are required to apply for an ID card after their 14th birthday from police departments at district and provincial levels. However, this responsibility has been suspended for patients suffering from mental illness and those who have lost control of their behavior.

When implementing the decree, police in many localities have refused to issue IDs for people with Down Syndrome considering them belonging to the suspended group.


Unidentified and out of luck

Last month, Thanh Nien reported on several cases where people with Down Syndrome in Ho Chi Minh City were not able to obtain an ID. In a few cases, police had accepted their applications and promised to issue the IDs this month.

However, relatives of the applicants were frustrated once again when they went to the police stations to collect the promised IDs. Police said they wouldn't be able to issue them until they (the applicants) submit a medical examination about their mental health.

Nguyen Thi Trinh of District 3, who had applied for an ID for her 18-year-old son, Le Ngoc Thanh, said that instead of giving them an ID as they'd promised, the District 3 police directed them to the city police.

"This is a special case with Down Syndrome, we had to transfer the documents to higher authorities," lieutenant colonel Phan Xuan Hoan told Trinh.

At the HCMC Police Department, a police official told Trinh that they didn't have the authorization to issue an ID for her son and that they were collecting similar applications to ask for instructions from higher ups.

He also told Trinh to submit a medical examination report before they considered the case.

In a similar case, relatives of 20- year-old Thich Cam Nguyen in District 3 said that they were requested to attach a medical certificate to her ID application.

Meanwhile, many other people with Down Syndrome were able to obtain IDs in the city.

Hang of District 10 said that she managed to obtain an ID for her 17- year-old son two years ago. "The police officials helped us a lot with procedures and also issued him an ID number that is easy to remember," she said.

Experts said that if police were going by the decree, they should be aware that not all people with Down lose their cognition or behavioral control. But the regulation itself needs to be abolished and IDs issued to every citizen regardless, they added.

"Many people with Down Syndrome can attend school and go to work. They are also human. But we have looked at them differently and no one has sympathized with them or helped them," said Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Quang of the Ho Chi Minh City Health Department.

"Let's speak out to help these disadvantaged people," he said.

Vo Thi Hoang Yen, director of the Disability Research and Capacity Development Center in HCMC, said that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force in May 2008, recognized that discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of a human being.

"The community of people with disabilities has struggled not to be considered second-class citizens. Their rights are maintained in laws for people with disabilities in many countries. There must be no discrimination against them," she said.

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