Statement by Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, on the occasion of the National Conference on Vital Events Registration
Ghion Hotel, Addis Ababa
22 October, 2013 (08:30 hours)
Deputy Prime Minister, H.E Muktar Kidir
Federal Minister of Justice, H.E. Ato Getachew Ambaye,
Director General, National Civil Registration Agency, H.E Netsanet Abera Lema
Members of the House of Peoples Representatives,
Representatives from different Federal Government Ministers,
Representatives from all Regions and the cities of Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m pleased to be with you here today at the National Conference on Vital Events Registration. Let me begin by congratulating the Ministry of Justice for spearheading the process of crafting the legislative framework for civil registration along with the oversight and coordination system at national level.
As you know, the Ministry of Justice has also recently established the National Vital Events Registration Agency with the National Vital Events Registration Council having been established yesterday.
All of this is occurring as Ethiopia is being acclaimed for making remarkable progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). So it is timely that the discussion on developing a modern civil registration system is gathering momentum. For civil registration is not just about identity cards -it is rather a pre-requisite for measuring equity, monitoring trends and, evaluating impact and outcomes of broader development programmes, such as the MDGs and the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).
While some progress has been made, there is still an enormous gap in registering vital events especially birth registration. According to the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey report of 2005, birth registration of children under the age of five was around 7 per cent, meaning that 9 out of 10 Ethiopian children remain unregistered.
As we embark on this crucial task of accelerating progress, I would like to emphasize the following three key points:
First: birth registration is every child’s right. As stipulated in Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: “every child has the right to be registered at birth without any discrimination.” Birth registration, was recognized as central to ensuring children’s rights to name, identity and nationality. Ethiopia was among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However, with no proof of age or identity, Ethiopian children and young people may be seen as attractive ‘commodities’ and subject to child trafficking across the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf. Nor will they have even the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour or detention and prosecution as an adult. Registration of the birth of a child serves as a safeguard and protection against violence, abuse and exploitation, especially for those who are already marginalized. Therefore, I call on all stakeholders to ensure children are provided with their first legal right, that of birth registration.
Second: birth registration is the gateway to social services and to full citizenship rights. In essence, it is the core of the civil registration system.
Improved birth registration records contribute to better statistical data on populations that are crucial for planning, prioritizing and monitoring actions and policies aimed at protecting children. It paves the way to accessing basic social services such as health, education, to property and inheritance rights and later to the full rights of citizenship including the right to vote. It is a child’s passport to protection and signals that the state values every child equally.
Third, as we develop the operational roadmap to establish the civil registration system, it will be critical to utilize the existing platforms that are already reaching the majority of the people. For example, in many countries UNICEF has been involved in helping to integrate birth registration with regular health services in order to increase birth registration coverage. In some countries, mobile phone technology has been used to facilitate such services. These programmes do not occur as stand-alone initiatives, but rather as part of comprehensive national strategies that utilize all possible entry points for birth registration. Of course Ethiopia, with its 38,000 health extension workers already deployed on the ground and on the government payroll and increasingly linked to communities through the Women’s Development Army, has a unique opportunity to rapidly accelerate the coverage of birth registration. In the process I am sure that Ethiopia could become a regional and global leader on this issue just as it has in many MDG-related areas.
Finally, UNICEF has adopted, as one of its global and national programme priorities, the promotion of standardized national birth registration systems as a core component of national civil registration systems. As we support national governments and local authorities around the world, we have also conducted extensive analysis of the financial and non-financial barriers that communities and families face in regards to accessing birth and civil registration. In some countries, it is formal charges, in others, it is the opportunity costs associated with long distances, complex procedures, and the lack of proper documentation. The latter is particularly important for orphans who may not have access to any official documents of family members. As well as setting bold targets, it will be critical that our road map addresses such practical bottlenecks.
And so, on this important occasion, I would like to pledge UNICEF’s firm commitment to support the Ministry of Justice and all stakeholders in our collective endeavour to establish a fully functional civil and birth registration system in Ethiopia- to count every child, and in the process, to make every child count.
I wish you all a fruitful discussion, linked to concrete actions.
I thank you