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Birth registration effort aims to protect child rights in Namibia

© UNICEF Namibia/2009/Bloemen
A newborn child from the San community now has a birth certificate, thanks to the massive registration campaign in Namibia.

By Shantha Bloemen

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

WINDHOEK, Namibia, 28 October 2009—A novel idea for children has become a reality, now that the Namibian Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration has set up an office in the maternity ward at Katutura State Hospital, the main public hospital in Windhoek. This UNICEF-supported effort is designed to ensure that every child born at the hospital receives a birth certificate.

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In Namibia, 81 per cent of women deliver their babies in a hospital, yet 40 per cent of Namibian children under the age of five lack birth certificates. Children without birth certificates are more vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and early marriage, and have less access to government services and schooling.

Breaking down barriers
The naming of a Namibian child is traditionally reserved for the father’s family, and this practice can cause delays in birth registration. At Katutura State Hospital, the nurses and the team from Home Affairs now counsel mothers to either get an agreement on the name before birth or get the child registered when they return six weeks later for vaccinations.

“In this case, the Ministry of Health is providing facilities and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration provides the staff to register the children,” said UNICEF Representative in Namibia Ian MacLeod.

“They have broken down the traditional barriers of ministries not working together in the best interest of kids,” he added.

Mobile registration teams
The drive to increase registrations is also reaching children in more remote regions.

Recently in Okongo, northern Namibia, hundreds of people – including children and elderly people – camped out overnight to wait for the arrival of a mobile registration team. With the Home Affairs office hundreds of kilometres away from Okongo, transportation costs alone previously made it too expensive for many of these people seek registration.

The recent mobile registration campaign was the second one this year to bring this critical service to remote communities.

Reaching indigenous communities
An even greater challenge is ensuring the provision of birth certificates to members of Namibia’s indigenous San ethnic group, who are traditional hunter-gatherers. They are the most marginalized minority in the country, often living without access to the most critical services. 

© UNICEF Namibia/2009/Bloemen
San women receive birth certificates for their children at a mobile registration centre.

According to registration workers, many of these nomadic people do not know their dates of birth, and some do not even know their parents’ names. Some cannot read or write, so registration forms must be signed with thumbprints instead of signatures, and many parents lack the documentation to prove a child is theirs.

Thankfully, the registration workers are committed to overcoming such obstacles.

Commitment to child right
The UNICEF-supported registration programme is now being expanded to 34 health facilities across the country, illustrating the strong commitment of the Namibian Government to this effort.

“Namibia is a member state of United Nations with a mandate given to all states to have their people registered as their basic right,” said Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Rosalia Nghidinwa. “With a birth certificate, children can have access to health facilities, education, social grants, and also be protected.”




UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a far-reaching campaign to protect the rights of all Namibian children through birth registration.
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