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Innovations, lessons learned and good practices

Swaziland: Scaling Up Birth Registration Campaigns

Issue addressed

Birth registration is a human right. According to Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child ‘shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality…’. Children who are not registered and do not have birth certificates are not recognized as citizens. They are without legal protection and are unable to access government services, such as education grants. Governments without accurate census figures cannot plan basic school and health services.

The prevalence of unregistered children and young adults in Swaziland became clear in 2004, when UNICEF collected data on the birth registration status of orphaned and vulnerable children in Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs) – areas set up to provide these children with basic education, a daily hot meal and health services. The study revealed that approximately 27 per cent of the 29,000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) interviewed at Neighbourhood Care Points did not possess birth certificates. This translates into almost 8,000 children without birth certificates. However, with estimates of OVC at 130,000 and NCPs reaching only a little more than 20 per cent of these children, it was estimated that more than 40,000 OVC may be without birth certificates. To address this situation, UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, embarked on a birth registration campaign. The campaign began in 2005 with an initial catchment area of 55 chiefdoms and has now reached almost half of the 360 chiefdoms in Swaziland.

Strategy used and actions taken

UNICEF’s key partner in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, which adopted a community-based approach to take the birth registration service to the people at chiefdom level. UNICEF provided funding for extra personnel and stationery used in the registration process, along with additional equipment such as printers and a vehicle to help the Registrar’s office cope with the increased demand for registration. For its part, the Swazi government contributed by exempting birth certificate fees (US$.70–$1.60) for all children below the age of 18. The government also contributed vehicles and overtime payments for permanent staff.

The first step was to mobilize communities in Swaziland’s four regions. This was done by inviting key partners to a meeting on the importance of birth registration. The participants included chiefs, community leaders, Regional Secretaries and caregivers. Their task, in turn, was to encourage birth registration among community members in the selected chiefdoms. Leadership was also given the responsibility of providing registration facilities, such as shelters. In addition, radio broadcasts and newspapers were used to inform people about the campaign and to tell them where the registration would take place. The government also developed a pamphlet (in English and SiSwati) giving detailed information on how to register a child, and this was widely distributed during community mobilization. T-shirts, bags and posters were also produced and distributed to further raise awareness. Each chiefdom was allocated three days for registration in 2005 and five days in 2006.


Since the campaign began in June 2005, 171 of the country’s 360 chiefdoms have been reached. All told, 43,528 individuals have been registered, of which 17,129 were single-orphaned children, 6,159 were double-orphaned children, 11,603 were classified as vulnerable children and the rest were children who did not fit into these categories. (The total includes 9,466 young adults, over 18 years of age, who still had not been registered.)

A comparative analysis of the status of the children registered in 2005 and 2006 shows that in both years a majority were single-orphaned children. Also, in both years, in all categories but double-orphaned children, more girls than boys were registered. This is a very positive outcome, because when poverty prevents families from sending all their children to school, they usually prioritize boys over girls. Providing more girls with birth certificates therefore increases their opportunities, as it gives them access to government grants and services.

Source: Birth Registration Campaign 2005 – 2006: UNICEF/Government of Swaziland

An analysis of the data according to age groups reveals that the majority of children registered were between the ages of 0 and 12 –  primary school age and an age when it is critical for a child to have a birth certificate. As seen below, a considerable number of persons older than 18 also benefited from the registration campaign. These were young adults (19–21) without birth certificates who accompanied their younger siblings and who, in many instances, needed to acquire their own birth certificates in order to legally present themselves as guardians for their brothers and sisters.

Status of Children Registered by Age Groups 2005-2006

Status of Child

Age 0-5 Age 6-12 Age 13-18 Age 19+ Total 
Male Single Orphaned 1859 2149 1902 1326 7236
Female Single Orphaned 1896 2156 1900 2293 8245
Male Double Orphaned 338 1118 993 893 3342
Female Double Orphaned 409 1189 898 1864 4360
Male Vulnerable 1540 1263 924 508 4235
Female Vulnerable 1494 1291 996 733 4514
Male Other Children 1895 1768 1158 769 5590
Female Other Children 1989 1829 1108 1080 6006
TOTAL 11420 12763 9879 9466 43528

Lessons learned

The birth registration campaign underscored the importance of birth registration as an entry to all other public services, including government education grants. First, in the context of decentralization in Swaziland, birth registration campaigns function as data collection mechanisms that facilitate programme planning and implementation and monitoring of public service delivery. Decentralizing registration services to all regions and to rural areas in particular has clearly increased access to services dramatically and amplified the overall importance of population data and registration of births.

Second, in the context of an HIV/AIDS epidemic, birth registration campaigns must take into account the large number of caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children; providing death certificates, marriage certificates and national identify cards along with birth registration helps many caregivers become the officially registered guardians of the children in their care and enables them to access government services for them.

Finally, the data indicate that many of the children who could not be registered were hindered because they lacked the necessary documents or proper informants. It is thus a lesson learned that individuals need to be well informed in advance as to what preparations are needed for birth registration.  Community mobilization, held prior to registration days, must provide clear instructions for all community members.

Remaining challenges
The remaining 189 chiefdoms are to be covered within the next two years. The entire campaign is targeting 100,000 children by 2010.



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