Birth registration - Access to services

A name and nationality is every child's birth right

By Pragmatis
Maternal Health, Children's Rights, Education, Guyana, Suriname
UNICEF Guyana 2013 Williams
10 February 2020

Every individual has the right to have legal recognition of their existence through registration of their birth. Our identities are to some extent bound up with paper. Whether it is a passport or a birth certificate, these identifying documents are legal proof of who we are and are essential elements of modern life. Crediting the support of UNICEF’s mapping programme, between 2016 to 2019, the General Registrar’s Office (GRO) has gained access to many remote areas of Guyana. The country now has an improved record of properly registered births – a total of 89% of the population.

The larger percentage of Guyana’s population live on the coastal areas which is adequately serviced by a number of hospitals and health centres. After a child is born, there is a 21-day period in which parents must register their birth. This generally ensures ample time for the parents to register the child. In the interior regions, however, the situation is very different; the health facilities are limited and the distance between them is great. Registering a child would require travelling for miles to the nearest health centre; it could mean days of walking or travelling by boats in the riverine communities. The journey becomes even more difficult during the rainy season when the water levels rise, making it almost impossible to move around; many people would think, it would not be worth taking the risk to venture out so far.

Birth registration, right to an identity, child rights

After a child is born, there is a 21-day period in which parents must register their birth.

If a child is not registered within twelve months after their birth, then the case becomes one of late registrations. In such cases, the Registrar General has to give the approval for that child to be registered. For persons living in the interior regions, this requirement places an additional burden on the applicant and increases their inability to access services.

The Indigenous people of Guyana are the ones who are most affected by restricted access to services. Many of them still live in isolated groups deep in the interior and do not speak English. This language barrier presents an additional challenge to the registration process since many of the health workers do not speak the indigenous languages. In an interview with Mr. Louis Crawford from the GRO he said that an interpreter had to accompany the team on their visits to many of these communities in order for them to productively communicate. In essence, location and language barriers are two of the main issues contributing to the high incidence of unregistered births.

Over the last three years, however, there has been a tremendous decrease in the number of unregistered births. In 2016, the GRO embarked on a programme, targeting Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9, to get as many people as possible registered in those areas.  At the time of the interview, over 7,000 persons were registered and provided with birth certificates. Mr. Crawford revealed, this could not have been done without the help of UNICEF, which played a tremendous role in providing access to some of the most remote areas in Guyana. Without this support, “several persons would have still not been able to have their births registered,” opined Mr Crawford. Not only were a number of young and older children registered during this programme, but also many senior citizens from areas such as Baramita in Region 1. This means, those senior citizens would have spent their entire lives without having had full access to all services available to legitimate citizens.

The importance of registering all births and information on how to do this are disseminated through the various media. However, people living deep in the hinterland often have little to no access to these mediums of communication. As a result, their knowledge of the steps involved in birth registration is often limited.

Birth Registration, Right to an Identity, Child Rights

In view of this, an awareness programme to educate the public is carried out in addition to the registration campaign. The GRO and UNICEF work in tandem to educate and inform people of the importance and benefits of being registered, namely, a certificate legitimizes citizenship, confirms identity and allows access to schooling and other systems. A birth certificate is also required when seeking employment for certain jobs and when registering to vote during general elections; it will also provide a more accurate population census. Work is currently being done, in areas such as Mabaruma in Region 1 and Lethem in Region 9. The goal is to get as many people registered and issued with birth certificates.

Though the GRO and UNICEF have been making great progress in accessing some regions, more health facilities in some areas will allow residents access not only to register new births, but also to receive medical treatment when necessary. Towards this end, the Ministry of Health has also been working along with UNICEF to make some of these most remote areas more accessible.

Mr. Crawford posits that both parents are responsible for ensuring that their child is registered, but also acknowledges that the onus usually falls more heavily on mothers, who spend the most time with the child, especially while they are very young. In the last few years, Guyana has seen an influx of migrants from Brazil, Cuba, China and Venezuela; it is important that people know the processes and procedures for registering their children. Efforts are being made to make information accessible for all. 

Since the involvement of UNICEF, the number of unregistered births has decreased to 11% and with their continued support, this number will continue to decline. There is still work that needs to be done – for example, there are still some areas that have not yet been accessed – but Mr. Crawford foresees that with the continued help from UNICEF, soon there will be full access to the interior of Guyana, even the most remote spots. The GRO is coming closer to their goal of registering everyone in Guyana as a legal citizen.