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Campaign seeks to register 2.5 million children in Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2005/Crowe
Jean Rakotonindrina, a 13 year-old Malagasy Boy, was one of 350 children to be registered at a mass event in Manandona, Madagascar.

By Sarah Crowe

MANANDONA, Madagascar, 14 June 2005 – Thirteen-year-old Jean Rakotonindrina has lived here all his life, in a hilltop home overlooking a lush valley of rice paddies. But until today, he has not legally existed in his own country.

Today Jean, along with 350 other children of all ages from his village, will claim his right to an identity, by registering his birth with the government.

Proud and barefoot, Jean marches down the path away from his family’s simple thatched-roof house, hands in pockets, leading his parents to the community centre. The white, green and red Malagasy flag is raised (‘Malagasy’ refers to the nationality of the people of Madagascar). The crowd quietly sings the national anthem and then holds hands to chant a song about the importance of having a ‘copy’ – a birth certificate.

A day of rebirth

For Jean and for the 2.5 million Malagasy children, having no ‘copy’ has meant having no real schooling, no exams, no land, no life.

© UNICEF Madagascar/2005/Crowe
Jean did household chores because he could not go to school. Without a birth certificate, Jean could not get an education.

“Jean didn’t have a birth certificate because as soon as I gave birth, his father left me,” says Jean’s mother, Georgette Rasoamampionona. “Jean went to school for two years but he had to leave because he did not have his birth certificate.”

That brief time at school was enough to inspire Jean with dreams of becoming a teacher. Those dreams were remote from reality in his Madagascar village – until now.

So this day is something of a rebirth for Jean in more ways than one – he lines up with the others in the community hall of Manandona and faces the judge to register his birth. Later, in a quiet ceremony in the presence of the young mayor, and with his mother wiping the occasional tear from her eyes, Jean’s stepfather officially adopts him. Now he is legal on every level.

Registration means rights and protection

“Without a birth certificate, children legally don’t exist in Madagascar, so this opens the door for a whole series of violations of the rights of the child,” says UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Barbara Bentein. “There are huge risks for child trafficking, for illegal adoption. And later, when the child is older they will need to have an identity card to become a citizen and vote.”

© UNICEF Madagascar/2005/Crowe
Jean Rakotonindrina stands proudly with his parents and papers - official at last!

Registering a child’s birth is a critical step for preventing abuses and for opening doors for a child’s future. “A birth certificate gives access to rights, access to education, to protection against violation,” says Ms. Bentein.

The latest figures indicate that about 25 per cent of children in Madagascar are not registered (source: SOWC). The government of Madagascar has prioritized birth registration and launched a mass campaign, supported by UNICEF, to register the backlog of an estimated 2.5 million children, and ensure that parents register their newborns within 12 days of birth as a matter of course.

But a huge funding shortfall of nearly $5 million means that Madagascar may have to play catch-up for too long.

Funding needed

“The campaign has mobilized a lot of energy, without even the traditional funding,” says Ms. Bentein. “The campaign has been an important national event because it has been an effort done jointly by several ministries and also by civil society.

“Of course, it creates expectations. It is one of the major priorities of the government and if it doesn’t get funding, it will not reach the expected results. So it will create disappointment.”

While lobbying for funds continues, Jean for one is not disappointed. He will continue to till the soil, tend the cattle and help his mother and father around the house. But now he can go back to school and for the first time, his dreams of becoming of teacher have a chance of being realized.




14 June 2004:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports on Madagascar’s campaign to register 2.5 million children.

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