Unknown: Illegitimate children in Morocco struggle for identity

By Islam Abdelouali“I have only God,” says Aziza. Rabat – Aziza Kanzi, 40, lives in one small room, roofed by corrugated metal and wood in a slum called “Sahb El Caid” in Salé just across the river from Rabat. Kanzi is the mother of 8 children.  Four of those children came from her marriage to a man who died 13 years ago.  She never married the father of the other four, ages 2.5 to 11. These youngest children are not registered. Without registration in Morocco, it is almost as if these children don’t exist. “Bastards,” they are called. In Morocco, registration allows the child to be declared in what Moroccans call “the Family Book.” A couple receives this book once they get married. Having this family book makes it possible to get any document in the future, such as the national identity card.  This card allows many things like taking the baccalaureate exam, having a passport, and getting married eventually.  From left, Abdelaziz & Sifeddine, 6, wrestle each other on a cushion in their shack. Kanzi describes her children like a gang, or a footbal team.153 children are born illegitimately every day in Morocco and more than half are not registered, according to the association based in Casablanca, Institution Nationale de Solidarité avec les Femmes en détresse (INSAF). Illegitimate children who are registered were helped by associations to get their names registered or took their mothers’ names, according to INSAF. The number of illegitimate children in Morocco is rising and INSAF estimates that within 20 years half of all children will be illegitimate. In 2004, the family code was reformed to improve the situation of women and especially the protection of children in all circumstances.Abdelaziz, 10, sits and looks into the kitchen while his mother, Aziza Mohammed Kanzi, 39, folds clothes behind him. Kanzi’s 4 illegitimate children live with her in a small shack in the slums of Sahb Al Caid in Salé. “[My children] will blame me for this poor life conditions,” Kanzi said.“There have been tangible advances since the reforms of 2004, however, the mentalities should change because this issue in not only juridical, it is societal”, says Aicha Ech-chana, an activist and president of an NGO called “Solidarité Féminine”. “Now, if the father doesn’t admit and recognize his fatherhood to the child, or if he is unknown or disappeared, the mother can register the child and give him her last name but only under the  condition that she gives a fictitious name for the father starting with “Abd”.”The mother has a deadline of 30 days after giving birth to register her child. And once she goes beyond that period, she has to go through the court to finish the procedures of registration. But, the majority of women who find themselves in that delicate situation are frightened and scared to go through the court and prefer to just let it go. “I don’t even know the alphabet”, says Aziza.Aziza puts buckets on the ground to collect the rain pouring from the roof. Holding her baby girl Marwa, she talks about her struggles with neither an income, nor a family to rely on. “I’m fed up with this situation. Sometimes, I just think about leaving everything and never coming back.”Aziza Mohammed Kanzi smiles at her daughter, Marwa, 1, before letting her fall asleep. “I don’t want them to be like me, I want them to get education and hopefully work in the future,” Kanzi said.Photos and captions by: Rachel Woolf. Lauren Kopchik and Rachel Woolf contributed to this article. read more

Read more on Unknown: Illegitimate children in Morocco struggle for identity