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Mozambique, 8 May 2013: Birth registration a vital necessity

© UNICEF Mozambique/2013/Sumaira Chowdhury
Laura Nhembe (c) is registering her granddaughter Marta, 5, to make sure she can go to school.

By Sumaira Chowdhury 

Gaza, Mozambique, 8 May 2013. Laura Nhembe only learned that birth registration services would be offered during the National Health Week when she brought her children in for vaccination. Fortunately, she has the relevant documentation on her, and is now standing in front of the registrar, Laximim Pelembe, with her two young girls. Telma is only 4 months old, while Marta is 5, going on 6. Laura is very clear about the importance of birth registration – “para ir a escola”, she says loudly. So they can go to school. But when asked why she hasn’t registered their births before, her voice drops a notch. Marta is in fact her grand-daughter, she says, and has been abandoned by her mother. Now that Marta is of age, and has a birth certificate, Laura says she will go to school. 

In addition to being a fundamental human right, birth registration is also an essential requirement to access basic social services, such as education and social protection. UNICEF is supporting the Government of Mozambique in delivering basic services to all its children, including Marta.

There is no smile on Deolinda Mariacunes’ face as she tells us her story. Soon it becomes clear why. Her husband, formerly a miner in South Africa, died in an accident a month ago, leaving her to raise her son, Jordão Mate Jr, alone. With no income of her own, she has left her home in Maputo to seek assistance from her husband’s family, but as one of four common-law wives, she is not the only one in that situation. She originally came to the Centro de Saúde in Macia to seek the transfer of the treatment she and Jordão are on. The hospital workers told her to come back for the National Health Week, at which time she was also advised to register the birth of her son, now 6 months old. With only a copy of her husband’s passport in hand, Deolinda initially has trouble convincing the registrar to write her husband’s name on his birth certificate, but finally the registrar, in the outreach spirit of the National Health Week, relents.

© UNICEF Mozambique/2013/Sumaira Chowdhury
With only a copy of her deceased husband’s passport, Deolinda has trouble convincing the registrar to write his name on her son's birth certificate, but the registrar finally relents.

Deolinda is not the only mother to face this situation. While the Civil Registration Law permits children to be registered with only one parent present, more rigid registrars refuse to do so, insisting that both parents be present, or asking for proof of marriage, which in a country with significant numbers of men working in mines abroad and low marriage registration rates in rural areas, is tantamount to denying the child the basic right to an official identity. Often, the compromise reached is that the registrar registers the child without the name of the father, resulting in whispers of illegitimacy when the child joins school.

The Ministry of Justice recognizes this challenge, and is looking into ways of redressing it. UNICEF is supporting the Government of Mozambique in improving civil registration and vital statistics as a whole, in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and sister UN agencies, among others. Until then, mothers like Deolinda will continue to face barriers to registering the births of their children, though fortunately, Jordão slept throughout the whole discussion.

National Health Week is a bi-annual child health promotion campaign, during which child and maternal health services are offered in all health centers across the country. Services include immunization, Vitamin A, and deworming, as well as birth registration, a new addition, with at least 50,000 registrations planned during the campaign. 

The European Union is a key UNICEF partner in financing the birth registration component of the National Health Week, developing creative social mobilization materials and piloting mobile phone technology for birth notification

For more information, please contact:

Patricia Nakell, UNICEF Mozambique
Tel: +258 82 312 1820; Email:

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique
Tel. (+258) 21 481 100; Email:



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