District officers find value in service

LIFE AND DEATH::Household registration officers help people not only with marriage, birth or divorce registrations, but also check to see whether residents are still alive

By Weng Yu-huang and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - Page 5

To complete many tasks such as getting a new ID or registering a marriage, people have to visit the local household registration office. However, very few people know that if they are physically impaired, officers can visit them at their homes to help them with the paperwork.

Chiu Shih-jung (邱士榮), a section head at the household registration office in Daan District (大安), Taipei, said that as a rule, people have to come to the office to file paperwork in person to protect their rights when doing things such as registering a marriage, birth or divorce, verifying personal seals or obtaining a national identification card.

However, for people with mobility problems, officers can visit them at home and it would be the same as “filing the registration in person,” Chiu said, adding that few people seem to be aware of the home visitation service.

Chiu said someone once asked him: “My father is seriously ill and in hospital. How can he get his personal seal verified and registered? Do we have to get an ambulance to carry him to your office?

Chiu said he told the person that he only needed to explain his father’s condition and make an appointment with a registration officer at a fixed time and location. The officer would then go in person, either to the hospital or to the applicant’s home, to help with the paperwork.

Asked about his most memorable experience, Chiu said it was during the SARS epidemic a decade ago.

Chiu was asked to go to the National Taiwan University Hospital to handle a case. It was only when he arrived at the hospital that he realized that the person he had to see was a SARS patient in a negative pressure isolation ward.

Chiu said he did not know at the time how serious SARS was, but he felt duty-bound to complete his task, so he put on a protective suit and went into the isolation ward to verify the patient’s decisions and complete the paperwork. It was only later that Chiu realized he may have had a close brush with death.

“Although going to people’s homes is not easy, it can be worthwhile and we feel good providing this service,” Chiu said.

He recalled visiting the home of a writer who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease — a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and which can lead to paralysis — and helping him with some paperwork.

After completing the task, the writer, using his eyes and with the assistance of his wife, wrote Chiu a message thanking him for his help.

The message read: “Thank your for your diligent work in helping me. I want to give you a book as a gift.”

Chiu still has the book and whenever he looks at it, he remembers the value and meaning of bringing his work to people’s homes.

Yang Fu-bao (楊富堡) has a more unusual occupation — as the section officer in charge of death registration and certification at the household registration office in Zhongshan District (中山), Taipei.

Not only is Yang responsible for monitoring statistics on the elderly population in the district, he also has to verify death reports or obtain updates on people’s living status.

Aside from office work, Yang often has to conduct on-site investigations, which can include climbing mountains or trekking through wilderness or coastal areas to visit remote gravesites or columbaria to verify if an individual is deceased or alive.

According to a senior officer at the Zhongshan office, when someone passes away, family members must file the necessary paperwork within 30 days of the death.

Family members must file a “registration of death” to remove the name of the deceased from the household registry, as required by law. They must bring either a death, autopsy or cremation certificate to register, the officer said.

However, some people fail to register the death within the timeframe required or do not know what documents they need, and this has led to problems of discrepancies in the population registry data, the officer said.

According to Yang, his division monitors senior citizens over the age of 80. Individuals may be listed as “probable deceased elders” when they fail to pick up a new ID or pay their National Health Insurance premium and have no record of exiting the country or a funereal record.

Officers like Yang are then tasked with inspecting the status of these senior citizens. This requires the skills and acumen of a criminal investigator, sifting through all the available clues to verify if the individual is dead or alive.

Yang recounted a case last year of a man surnamed Wang (王), who had not been heard from for years. Yang started by visiting Wang’s relatives: an elder sister and three stepbrothers.

Yang later received a phone call from the wife of one of the stepbrothers, who told him that Wang had died about 40 years ago. She said Wang had liver disease and died suddenly on a roadside. Several friends helped arrange his funeral, she said.

In cases such as this where no death certificate has been issued, Yang said regulations require that two relatives of the deceased must visit the local police precinct and file a “Written Record of Eyewitness to Death.” This must be accompanied by a photograph of the grave’s tombstone or the urn containing the deceased’s ashes.

Yang talked to Wang’s family and friends, who could only tell him that they remember his cremated urn was lodged in a columbarium in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Bali District (八里).

Yang called up all the columbaria in Bali one by one and was finally able to locate Wang’s urn, helping the family to complete his death registry.

It is these officers’ duty to maintain accurate population statistics, but the work can be arduous and painstaking. At times, they even have unexpected outcomes.

Wang Chiu-yung (王秋蓉), who works at the Daan household registration office, once helped locate the body of a person who had been registered as missing for many years, just as the corpse was being prepared for cremation.

Through her efforts, the family was able to fulfill their wish of seeing the deceased relative one last time before cremation and give them closure.