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UTL Boosts Birth Registration with New MobileVRS

UTL Boosts Birth Registration with New MobileVRS

A Child’s Appeal
When 15 year old Beatrice Nassanga, a student at Aga Khan High School met Speaker Edward Ssekandi, some months ago, all she wanted was to persuade him to convince Parliament to declare birth registration mandatory for every child in Uganda. 

Without birth registration, Nassanga told Speaker Ssekandi, children in Uganda remain vulnerable, since they remain unknown to the Government and therefore cannot be planned or catered for in schools, health facilities and other services that are important for their survival and development. 

“Without birth registration our rights as children are threatened with neglect and violence,” the child emphasized.

The Child’s Right to an Identity
Nassanga’s appeal is impossible to ignore as we commemorate the 21st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on Saturday November 20.

Articles 7 and 8 of the Convention stipulate that every child has the right to have a name and to belong, the right to be registered immediately after he or she is born, and to be citizens of a country.  Birth registration, therefore, upholds the child’s right to an identity.

Uganda’s Birth Registration Problem
In Uganda, birth registration is compulsory for all people in the country, according to the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1970. 

Sadly, however, of the approximately 1.5 million babies born in Uganda each year, only one in five is registered under the age of 5.  Not only are registration services inaccessible to most Ugandans, but registration fees and other hidden costs (such as transport charges) render them too expensive for the majority to afford. 

“At the moment, final birth registration services are only accessible in Kampala, which makes it quite costly for many Ugandans who live outside the capital city,” says Augustine Wassago, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF Kampala.  “Not many people can afford the registration fees, coupled with the associated transport and accommodation charges, and other hidden costs around the exercise, which is eventually why many children are left out of the exercise.” 

Besides, the registration system has its own challenges, being manual and paper-based.  It can take several months from the time a child is registered to the time they receive their birth certificates, particularly for children born out of hospital. This, according to Wassago, is because the paperwork moves from the “notifier” who records the birth at village level, to the parish chief, to the sub-county or town council for registration, before a birth certificate is subsequently prepared and sent back to the waiting parents through the same administrative structure.

Enter UTL’s MobileVRS System
However, very soon this state of affairs will change, as the Uganda Registration Services Bureau moves to automate the registration of births, deaths and marriages, with support from Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) and UNICEF.

“At Uganda Telecom, we have always believed in the importance of ensuring every citizen’s fundamental right to be counted,” says UTL Managing Director, Abdulbaset Elazzabi, who adds, “It is for this reason that we agreed to partner with the Registrar General and UNICEF to introduce an automated system that will ensure that every child’s birth in Uganda is registered”. 

The Mobile Vital Record System (MobileVRS) that has been developed, is being used to gather birth and deaths registration data right at community level and also from hospitals.  Instead of using the traditional paper forms, the information is captured and transmitted by mobile phones from the community, and by a web-based application from the hospitals, right into a government server that is centrally located and in real time. 

How it Works
Edmund Mugerwa, Information Technology (IT) Manager at UTL, says the beauty of MobileVRS is that it can be used freely with any type of mobile phone, wherever their signal is. 

MobileVRS is currently being tested with birth registration trials so far completed in 2 districts with a third under consideration.  In all cases, the trials were well-received as registrars embraced the use of the new tool.

Looking to the Future
Successful roll-out of the programme will strengthen the case for creating opportunities to harness enabling technologies in other social sectors to respond to various needs in the community, particularly to keep children in Uganda alive, safe and learning.

By Anne Lydia Sekandi, UNICEF Uganda
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