Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Taking the steps for a birth certificate, in the Democratic Republic of Congo

WATCH: Registering newborns in Kinshasa [in French]

 

By Mehdi Meddeb

Birth registrations are on the up in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, thanks to a new law and the dedicated work of a civil registry officer.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, November 2015 – Lubo Lubamba, known as ‘Papa Bobo’, writes in his fine handwriting the latest births of the week. With his glasses perched on the end of his nose, he fills in the big copybook in the civil registry office in Mont-Ngafula, on the outskirts of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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© UNICEF Video
Lubo Lubamba fills in the copybook in the civil registry office in Mont-Ngafula, on the outskirts of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Twenty births have been registered in this last week alone – a good number in a country where child registration is still not very widespread. But this civil registry officer is rather special: He takes a proactive approach, going from one maternity unit to another, to raise awareness among new parents on the rights of their children and the importance of birth registration.



For the past three years, Papa Bobo has had three maternity units to take care of, a role he holds dear.

“It is very important to bring people closer to the state,” he says. “By being an intermediary for families in maternity wards, I can raise awareness about registering births, about the possibility of doing it by proxy to make the process quicker.”

Simplified process

‘Proxy’ is the real magic word. Introduced in the country a few years ago, this administrative formality has simplified the process of registering births for the many families who live far from the civil registry office.

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© UNICEF Video
Mr. Lubamba explains the birth registration process to the father of a newborn child.

On this day at the start of the rainy season, Papa Bobo meets a couple of new parents with their little baby dressed in a woolly hat. With his proxy book under his arm, the Congolese civil servant explains the steps to them. “You won’t have to physically go to the office,” he says. “With this proxy that you sign, I will go to the office a couple of hundred metres away, I will get it signed by the official, and when I get back, I’ll give you the birth certificate.”

He explains that this important document will be crucial throughout the life of the child. “This piece of paper must be carefully looked after for your whole life, since the school might ask you for it when signing up your child,” he says. “You will also need it for issues of inheritance.”

“There is really great collaboration between the maternity wards and the services of the civil registrar,” says Vanessa Wirth, UNICEF Child Protection Officer for the province of Kinshasa. “And the proxy system has improved the registration of new-borns within the legal period of 90 days, when registration is free.”

Progress

This has been one of the key developments identified in the province of Kinshasa. An officer does all the work and brings the final document to the family, who have no need to move, and no need to interrupt a day’s work.

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© UNICEF Video
The newborn and its mother at home. Mr. Lubamba has returned with a birth certificate for the child in just a couple hours.

As a result, the province of Kinshasa leads the country with 39 per cent of births registered, according to the last demographic health survey published in 2014. It is a good achievement, but there is still a long way to go.
  

“To make even more progress, there will need to be even more civil registry offices,” adds Ms. Wirth. “There are only around fifty for a population of 10 million, which is far too few.”

Arlette, her husband, and their baby in the woolly hat are really rather lucky. Two hours after registering, the birth certificate is delivered.

Too few parents in this megacity have taken this step. And after the first three months, registration becomes complicated and very expensive, a procedure that discourages many parents.

“After 90 days, a legal ruling is required. This costs between $50 and $100, and then the fines can be up to $1,000,” Ms. Wirth says. “We are lobbying hard to reduce these costs, since considering the exorbitant price, very few parents dare to take the steps.”


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Birth registration

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