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Angola, 17 January 2017: Travelling to the country’s remotest communities to register new births

© UNICEF Angola/2016/Mendes
Mothers in the queue to get birth registrations for their children in the Camuanha community, Huila province, Angola. Camuanha is 30 km away from the main town in Chipindo, and many parents are unable to make the journey to register their children.

 
By Paulo Helio Mendes

In Angola’s rural areas, villages can be extremely difficult to reach, sometimes only accessible on foot. This limited access is one contributing factor to the country’s low rate of birth registration, as parents are unable to travel to urban areas to register their children. In the Chipindo municipality, a UNICEF programme is helping one man on his quest to register new births in the area.

CHIPINDO, Angola, 17 January 2017 – Chipindo is a remote municipality in Angola’s Huila province, located 450 km north from Lubango, the province’s capital city. Reaching Chipindo is not easy. Poor road conditions, particularly during the rainy season, mean that getting there from Lubango requires a 4x4 vehicle and usually takes around 6–7 hours.

The municipality was severely affected by the Angolan Civil War that ended in 2002, and the region is still recovering. Social services are basic and housing conditions are often precarious. Normally the city does not attract young trained professionals to live and work.

But Abel Eduardo Tchitata, the Head of Civil Registration Services, has been working in this challenging environment since 2013. This young lawyer from Lubango admits that it was not an easy decision to move here. As the only staff member working on birth registration in the municipality, his workload does not allow him to travel home much more than once a year.

“It was very difficult to leave my wife and two children. But without any job opportunites in Lubango, I had to make a sacrifice for the good of my family, and accept the challenge to work in Chipindo,” he says.

Despite these personal challenges, Abel is strongly committed to his professional responsibilities, which he views as not only the fulfilment of a person’s rights, but also an act of solidarity. “My greatest gratification is to be able to provide an identification document to a person. It is very rewarding to see that satisfaction in people’s faces, particularly for those in vulnerable conditions,” he says with a smile.

© UNICEF Angola/2016/Mendes
Abel sits at his desk at the civil registration office in Chipindo main town. Before UNICEF's birth registration programme, he was the only person in the municipality working to register new births.

 
The right to be registered at birth

When a child is registered at birth, the government has an official record establishing the existence of the child under law. This seemingly small step provides the foundation for protecting many of the child's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Birth registration is a matter of high priority in Angola. According to the 2014 census, fewer than 25 per cent of children under 5 years have been registered in the country. The situation is especially worrying in rural areas, where just 29.6 per cent of the population is registered compared to 67.7 per cent living in cities.

Indeed, after moving to Chipindo, Abel soon realized that he alone was not able to meet the demand for birth registration, particularly in rural communities.

“Before, I was only able to issue an average of 15 birth registrations per day. The services were only available in the main town of Chipindo. Due to the high demand of people every day, I could not register all of them and I had to select those coming with children from remote areas,” he says.

In an effort to support provinces like Chipindo with birth registration, UNICEF recently launched a programme to provide technical and financial support to the Delegation of Justice and local registration services. The programme, which was funded by the European Union, helps to strengthen local government capacity to issue registrations and to reach remote areas.

“Almost 50 workers were trained and deployed in four municipalities of the provinces where it is most difficult to deliver birth registration services,” says Lidia Borba, Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Angola. UNICEF also provided computers, information materials and motorbikes to support the work and mobility of the outreach teams.

Chipindo is one of the selected municipalities. According to Abel, this support increased overall birth registrations, and has helped his team reach areas where these services have never before been delivered. “We have been able to increase from 15 birth registrations per day to nearly 240,” he says. In 2015, only around 5,000 birth certificates among children and adults were issued throughout the whole year in Chipindo.

© UNICEF Angola/2016/Mendes
José António Ndimba with his wife Augusta Jamba and son Pedro Nhani, showing Pedro’s new birth certificate. A mobile registration team helped register Augusta Jamba and all three of their children.

 
Reaching remote areas

José Antonio Ndimba and his family are some of the real faces behind these numbers. They live in the community of Camuanha, located 30 km from the main town in Chipindo.

“I was worried because my wife and our three children – 9, 4 and 2 years old – were not registered. I could not make it because I would have to pay a lot of money to travel with all the family to Chipindo,” he says during his visit to the mobile registration post in their community. The little amount of money he gets from casual labour is only enough to buy food and clothes for his family.

“Now, my wife and children are also Angolan people who can access their rights and, thanks to birth certificates, they will be able to get their identification cards.”

Abel is hopeful for the future, but recognizes that there are still a lot of challenges. Some of the most remote areas are virtually inaccessible because of poor road conditions. There are some villages that can only be reached on foot.

“If we could deploy more outreach teams to areas where birth registration services are not in place, have a regular supply of registration materials and adequate mobility to perform supervision, we would be able to considerably reduce the rates of children and their parents without birth certificates in the municipality,” he says.

In the meantime, Abel continues his pursuit to help protect the rights of all children in Chipindo through birth registration.

 

 
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