Achieving universal birth registration in Belize: Making children count
Belize City, 24 February 2012 - At the end of one year of its ongoing Make Your Child Count campaign, UNICEF and its partners report that significant advances have been made in achieving universal birth registration of the most disadvantaged children in Belize. On 24 February, Universal Registration Day, we can proudly state that UNICEF and its partners, Ministry of Health, Vital Statistics Unit, Belize Social Security, National Committee for Families and Children, Toledo Programme for Children and Adolescents, Organization of American States, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children, and local community based organizations such as POWA have been able to mobilize communities to register their unregistered children. A total of 9,364 new birth certificates have been delivered to children and their families in 110 communities in Toledo, Stann Creek and Corozal Districts. Our relentless work will continue to target parents with unregistered children under the age of 18 in the remaining 3 districts during the next 9 months with the goal of achieving universal birth registration in Belize by 2015.
UNICEF’s work in birth registration is aimed at helping every child in Belize to attain his/her right to a name, identity and nationality to access essential social services and be counted! UNICEF and its partners continue working to remove the bottlenecks that impede access to birth registration (BR). Many hard-to-reach communities are under-served and are not able to access services for birth registration due to access and cost so a strong focus of our work is reaching out to them to complete the process to alleviate the numerous costly trips families must make to town which usually prevented many children from being registered. A sustainable solution is to establish birth registration zones for rural communities which will allow for services to be accessible at strategic points in rural areas.
The importance of effective communication and information cannot be underscored as many persons are not fully aware of the steps that must be taken to register their child. While the process is much clearer and simpler for children born in the hospital, parents who deliver their children at home by family members or traditional birth attendants face many challenges in registering births. It is not very clear to those persons what the procedure for registering children at birth is. Therefore simple and effective communication materials were designed and disseminated with clear steps to follow to complete the birth registration process. These materials are found in all Vital Statistics Offices and health centres nationwide which serve to inform parents about these processes. Public service announcements were also created to further inform the populace about the process.
Introduction of new technology is also necessary to facilitate birth registration. UNICEF is working in collaboration with OAS to support the upgrading of the current system to increase its efficiency as many persons in hard to reach areas are not accessing the services available. Additionally, the absence of the use of technology in birth registration can lead to too much human error in the recording of vital statistics which become costly for families to correct later.
Better coordination among key agencies responsible for ensuring that children are registered must occur if we are to achieve 100% birth registration. Government agencies have begun to dialogue among themselves about the long term roles they play in addressing the systemic bottle necks that prevent children from being registered as well as accessing services.
Other changes necessary for universal birth registration include strengthening the system - computerization where needed and re-examination of registration flow in main districts, removal of minor barriers to registration in legislation, design and formatting of registration forms, revisit opening hours of registration offices, and training of staff.
Another necessary amendment is the revision of the Birth Registration Act to ensure that the Act is enabling rather than restricting children’s rights to birth registration. Other challenging birth registration issues remain in communities along country borders such as Mexico-Chetumal, Guatemala-Melchor, Benque, Dolores, and Jalacte due to determination of the status of the child's nationality; the existence or lack of health services in the area and use of traditional birth attendants; and the challenge of pursuing national identity when a child is born outside the country.
Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child's existence, birth registration is fundamental to the realization of a number of rights and benefits, including access to health care and immunization. Registration also ensures that children can enroll in school at the right age; obtain social services; facilitate enforcement of laws setting the minimum age for employment; and even support efforts to prevent child labor and trafficking.
UNICEF remains committed to continue its partnership with the government, civil society and community leaders to achieve universal birth registration. While our collaborative arduous work is paying off there are still major gaps that we hope to address this year as we keep our eyes on the target of 100% universal birth registration by 2015.
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