Strengthening birth registration services
Progress and challenges
In recent years, Mozambique has made great strides in increasing access to birth registration services across the country. A national Plan of Action on Birth Registration was developed in 2004 to accelerate birth registration activities and strengthen the routine birth registration system nationwide.
Before the plan was put into action, only 6 per cent of children under five years had a birth certificate. Since then, about 4.2 million children under the age of 18 have been registered. This represents almost 50 per cent of all children in Mozambique.
Right to an identity
Birth registration is the official and permanent recording of the birth of a child by the State. It gives the child legal existence and a direct link to a child’s claim to citizenship and to the rights, benefits and obligations that accrue from that citizenship.
Lack of birth registration is a violation of a child’s inalienable human right to an identity. Without it, children cannot access basic social services at the appropriate age, including school enrollment after fifth grade. In the event of family separation during a natural disaster such as a flood, reunifying children with their families becomes a momentous task without birth registration.
Children who are not registered are also more vulnerable to a range of age-related abuses, including early marriage, hazardous child labour, military conscription, sexual exploitation, imprisonment in adult facilities and prosecution as an adult. A child also needs a birth certificate to inherit the estate of a deceased parent, which is vital in the context of HIV and AIDS.
Birth registration for good governanceStatistics from birth registration activities are an important source of information for good governance. They are used by government institutions in planning and allocating funds for education, health, water and sanitation and other sectors. Accurate estimates of yearly births are crucial to plan for poverty reduction and social services.
In Mozambique, for example, birth registration statistics are used by the National Bureau of Statistics to update the population census, and it allows the Ministry of Health to monitor births and deaths.
Barriers to birth registration
A recent survey shows that the main reasons given by parents for not registering their children at birth are the cost of registration, long distances to the Registry Office and lack of knowledge about the importance of birth registration.
In Mozambique, the majority of Registry Offices are concentrated in urban areas, making them relatively inaccessible to rural families. They are also often under-staffed and lack the material – registry books, paper for birth certificates and pens – to conduct their work.
There are also cultural barriers to birth registration, including the time taken to name a child – for which consultations with the family’s ancestors are needed – and the lack of willingness of mother’s to register a child without the presence of the father.
What is being done
What is being doneIn Mozambique, the national Plan of Action on Birth Registration aims to increase birth registration coverage through national and community level interventions.
Birth registration is also an integral part of the national Plan of Action for Children, which sets an objective of registering 90 per cent of new born children by 2010.
The strategy aims to decentralise birth registration services and raise public awareness of the importance of birth registration. The programme includes a strong community-based social mobilisation strategy to inform families and communities of the benefits of birth registration, with a specific focus on the registration of orphaned and vulnerable children.
Accelerating birth registration activitiesUNICEF supports the Ministry of Justice and other partners to accelerate birth registration activities across the country and strengthen the routine birth registration system. The goal is to reach nine million children by 2011.
From 2006 to 2008, the first phase of the programme aimed to clear the backlog of unregistered children. Over that period, the nationwide birth registration programme registered over four million children.
Expanding routine services
From 2009 to 2011, UNICEF will continue to work with the Ministry of Justice and partners to expand routine services in the districts covered by the catch-up registration activities carried out over the past four years, with the aim to register an additional 6.9 million children nationwide.
The second phase of the programme will focus on strengthening the routine registration systems to prevent future backlogs. The programme makes use of mobile brigades – particularly important to reach remote rural areas – and registration agents identified at community level.
The use of mobile brigades in addition to routine registration services has proven an effective method of clearing the backlog of unregistered births. Brigades are able to link up with the delivery of basic services as well as with specific events taking place within districts, such as vaccination campaigns.
In a context where access to fixed registration posts is limited, mobile services are also an effective means of ensuring that registration services reach remote rural communities.
Decentralising registration services
Bringing birth registration services closer to communities is the key to the sustainability of the programme. The strategy is to increase the range of state agents that are authorised to register children at community level.
To this end, selected community members are trained on birth registration procedures so they can work in close collaboration with a range of service providers such as hospitals and schools at the community level.
The support of community leadership and the involvement of community committees are crucial to ensure the increase in demand for birth registration.
Community awareness activities make use of community radios to broadcast spots in local languages and draw on community activists to inform families on routine registration procedures with messages focusing on the free period of registration and where registration is available nationwide.
Creating a national database on birth registration
Another important element of the strategy is the development of a national computerised database to store data and facilitate the exchange of information between central, provincial and district levels.
This computerised system will ensure the sustainability of the birth registration programme, prevent double-registration resulting from the loss of documents and simplify procedures to obtain copies of birth certificates.