Angola, 10 August 2010: With free birth registration, Angola promotes a child's right to legal identity
By Steve Felton
CUNENE PROVINCE, Angola, 10 August 2010 – In a province of southern Angola where poverty is prevalent and literacy is low, mothers are learning the unexpected importance of a simple document – the birth certificate.
Without one, children like Euginia Mwashivange’s five-year-old daughter, Launa, will have problems enrolling in school, receiving immunizations, voting, marrying and even getting a proper burial.
Obstacles to registration
After some 30 years of armed conflict, there is now peace in Angola. Unlike many children in the past, Launa has access to school and hopes to attend next year – provided she can get a birth certificate.
Without the document, she will continue to face obstacles. It is also proving difficult for her to obtain a medical card, which records all essential vaccinations against polio, tetanus, measles and other diseases. Since Launa was born at home, no registration took place at the time of her birth.
Hundreds of children in Cunene Province and in Angola’s capital, Luanda, face the same difficulty as Launa. There are many reasons why they remain undocumented. Often the journey from remote rural areas to a hospital or government office takes a day or more; the queues are long and the process can take hours. Parents themselves may lack identity papers and fathers are frequently absent or unknown.
Community Development Officer Iyaloo Tuyenikelao works with a UNICEF-supported village self-help group in Cunene Province. She asks Ms. Mwashivange where Launa's father is, and why he can't help. Ms. Mwashivange explains that he is stationed elsewhere for work and rarely visits. Despite his job with the police, he sends no money home, so raising the 1,600 kwanzas (about $17) required to pay for Launa's registration is prohibitive.
To address the epidemic of undocumented children in Angola, the government recently passed a new law establishing free birth registration for children under five at maternity hospitals.
UNICEF non-governmental partner ‘Step in CARE’ assists residents of Angola’s Kwanyama municipality by taking registration cases directly to the Justice Ministry to speed up the process. In Cunene’s provincial capital, Step in CARE Coordinator João Tchite Culo has a two-pronged strategy. He spends half his time strengthening local administrative systems and the other half working directly in the community. There, he trains village organizers like Ms. Tuyenikelao to write formal documents and to negotiate with government officials when necessary.
The organizers also receive training in community mobilization – learning how to get people together to articulate their problems so that solutions can be found.
Spreading the message
Community workers are getting the registration message out in other ways, as well. In Luanda’s busy marketplace, among the jostling crowds buying vegetables and second-hand clothing, the ‘Grupo Teatro Oprimido’ – Theatre of the Oppressed – gives an impromptu performance.
Its theme is simple: Get your babies registered – it's free and vital for their future. The theatre group promotes this essential message while also providing information about health and child protection, including the risks posed by drugs, child labour, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence.
The Angolan Government has also taken the message on board, establishing ‘11 Commitments for Children,’ which include birth registration. Through registration, the commitments seek to protect a child’s right to a name – which, in turn, ensures a child’s legal future in a civil state.
At Cazenga Hospital, close to the market, women and children wait for vaccinations. A room is set aside specifically for birth registration. Thanks to the training the staff has received, mothers now know the importance of registering their children and which documents to bring with them. Important strides in spreading the word about registration are evident across Luanda. Now, the challenge remains to bring change to Cunene and other, more remote, parts of the country.