Innovative approaches can boost birth registration in Africa

UNICEF welcomes the commitment of African governments to invest in civil registration system through innovations.

In sub-Saharan Africa, less than one in two children under five are registered. At current trends, 115 million children will be left without access to a legal identity and basic social services in their country by 2030. Globally, the African continent has the lowest civil registration coverage and weak vital statistics systems.

“Birth registration is a child’s passport to protection and critical services,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Today, technology offers an important opportunity for impressive gains in birth registration and building longer term systems. Many countries are exploring innovative practices in CRVS that should rapidly be taken to scale.”

Every year, UNICEF commemorates the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Day in Africa which aims to highlight the use of technology and approaches that make civil registration and vital statistics more simple, affordable and widely accessible.

To strengthen broader civil registration systems and improve birth registration across the continent, UNICEF has developed tools to support administrative data systems, such as Rapid Pro, a data collection tool that operates with simple mobile phones to record the number of births and deaths, allowing the follow-up of system performance in real time.

Another strategy is to work with health systems and services to ensure every newborn child is counted and given a legal identity. Results of innovative UNICEF programming show that birth registration increases significantly when it is integrated with health services.

In Uganda, for instance, great inroads have occurred through working with the health sector, doubling birth registrations to an estimated 60 percent. While in Senegal, during annual Child Health Days, registration rates of children under one in areas with low birth registration increased significantly when children were registered while receiving health services such as immunisation.

“With a legal identity, children can more easily access basic services, such as health and education,” said Marie Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Linking birth registration with maternal and child health services – especially in remote communities – will move African countries closer to providing equal opportunities to all children.”

Millions of children in Third World countries are born and brought up without any proper records, denying them of several rightful aids.

In the developed world, birth certificates are often a bureaucratic certainty. However, across vast swaths of Africa and South Asia, tens of millions of children never get them, with potentially dire consequences in regard to education, health care, job prospects and legal rights. Young people without IDs are vulnerable to being coerced into early marriage, military service or the labour market before the legal age. As adults, they may struggle to assert their right to vote or inherit property.

A name and nationality is every child’s right, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties. Yet the births of around one fourth of children under the age of five worldwide have never been recorded. This lack of formal recognition by the State usually means that a child is unable to obtain a birth certificate. As a result, he or she may be denied health care or education.

Later in life, the lack of official identification documents can mean that a child may enter into marriage or the labour market, or be conscripted into the armed forces, before the legal age. In adulthood, birth certificates may be required to obtain social assistance or a job in the formal sector, to buy or prove the right to inherit property, to vote and to obtain a passport. Registering children at birth is the first step in securing their recognition before the law, safeguarding their rights, and ensuring that any violation of these rights does not go unnoticed.

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