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Innovative Use of Cellular Technology Boosts Birth Registration in Pakistan

By: A. Sami Malik

Thatta district, Sindh – April 2016: The birth of a child calls for a lot of joy and celebration within rural communities of Sindh. At times, these celebrations continue for days and weeks as the entire village rejoices the new arrival, especially if it is a boy. The latest reason residents of Nabi Bukhsh Baloch village in Thatta district have come together to celebrate is the recent arrival of Darya Khan, a baby boy born to Mai Hajiani and her husband Ameer Bukhsh. The six-day-old Darya Khan is their fourth child and the first male after three girls.

“We are very excited to have a baby boy as we already have three girls,” says the mother, Mai Hajiani. My husband has a small piece of land that he cultivates all by himself. It is hard labour for him and yet he can barely earn enough for the family to survive. When this boy grows up we will send him to school so that he gets an education and finds himself a better occupation than working in the fields.”

© UNICEF/Pakistan/SamiMalik
Mai Hajiani of Nabi Bakhsh Baloch village, Thatta district
in Sindh, proudly holds six-day-old Darya Khan, her first
baby boy born after three girls.
 
Two important guests at Mai Hajiani’s house today are the local Lady Health Worker (LHW), Lateefan Banu and her daughter Saira. Lateefan is one of the 19 LHWs working in Union Council (UC) Dhabeji. A Union Council is the fifth and the lowest administrative level of the Government of “This is the ninth child I am registering in this village during the last six months,” When I started working on birth registration, people were not interested and I did not get a good response even in this village… Now when a child is born in the village, they invite me to register the child,” says Lateefan Banu, the local Lady Health Worker (LHW)Pakistan. Also known as the ‘Village Councils’ in rural areas, a UC usually comprises a large village and surrounding areas. As a resident of UC Dhaeji, Lateefan has been working as an LHW for the last 17 years. She caters to 147 households comprising over 1,000 people. Apart from raising awareness on health, hygiene and immunization matters among pregnant and lactating mothers, another important job assigned to her is the initiation of processes to register all new-born and unregistered children with the concerned government authorities.

As soon as Lateefan finds out that a child has been born to any of the 147 households, she visits the family to acquire the details of the new-born for initiating the registration process. Earlier, the birth registration process was cumbersome and required considerable amounts of time to complete, resulting in a situation where parents usually opted to avoid the process altogether and their children remained unregistered.

Another reason for low birth registration rates stemmed from a lack of awareness about the benefits of birth registration. An innovative pilot project for birth registration through mobile phones, initiated by UNICEF in collaboration with local and provincial authorities in Thatta district, has made the entire process easy and efficient.

“This is the ninth child I am registering in this village during the last six months,” says Lateefan Banu. “When I started working on birth registration, people were not interested and I did not get a good response even in this village. I then met Allahdad Balooch, the newly-elected councillor and explained the benefits of birth registration and the new process of birth registration through mobile phones. He understood and promised to talk to the residents. Thanks to him, now when a child is born in the village, they invite me for lunch and request to register the child. The mind set has changed.”

As part of its larger objective to strengthen the birth registration system in Pakistan, UNICEF is collaborating with the Departments of Local Government and Health, the National Data Base Registration Authority (NADRA) and the world-renowned mobile telecom network operator Telenor, to register every unregistered child in the province of Sindh. To this effect, an innovative pilot project for birth registration through mobile phones has been initiated in two Union Councils of Thatta district.  

© UNICEF/Pakistan/SamiMalik
The Lady Health Worker, Lateefan Banu feeds details about
the new born Darya Khan and his family into her smart phone
before transferring it to the Union Council Office – A
process which leads to birth registration and issuance of a
birth certificate for the child.
The use of mobile phones for scaling-up birth registration in Pakistan is an innovative and efficient supplement to the paper-based manual birth registration system. With funds and technical support from Telenor Pakistan, UNICEF’s mobile phone birth registration initiative has borne great results in Union Council Dhabeji, as in 2015, 95 per cent of new-born children were registered within the first six months of their birth, compared to approximately 5 per cent in 2014.

“Once I have fed the data, including the date and time of the child’s birth, parent’s names, National Identity Card (NIC) numbers and their address into my smart phone, my daughter Saira helps in taking photographs of the parents’ NICs, explains Lateefan Banu. “When all this is done, I transfer the data online to the Union Council office Dhabeji, for verification.” 

© UNICEF/Pakistan/SamiMalik
After entering the new-born’s data into her smart phone,
the Lady Health Worker, Lateefan Banu and her daughter Saira
take photos of the parents’ NICs. This is a prerequisite for
verification and further processing of the new-born’s
registration.
Data sent by all LHWs working in the Union Council (UC) Dhabeji is received on a tablet by the Secretary UC, Sadiq Shahani. His three-member team verifies the data to ensure that all entries are correct. The case is referred back to the concerned LHW if the data is incorrect or insufficient. Data of the approved cases is uploaded into the UC office database and each case is issued a Civil Registration Management System (CRMS) number. 

© UNICEF/Pakistan/SamiMalik
Secretary UC Dhabeji and his team receives and verifies the
data before issuing a CRMS number and registering a child.
The data is fed into the database of the UC office and later transferred to the central database of NADRA. 

“After verification of the data, a “Timely birth registration is a 'passport for protection' for a child. Digitalisation of the birth registration process and collaboration with various government departments, as well as with the private sector, is the way forward to achieve universal birth registration in Pakistan," says Jabeen Fatima Abbas, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist.CRMS number is issued to each case,” says Saqib Shahani, Secretary UC Dhabeji. “The LHW receives a message and informs the parents of the child that they can come to the UC office and receive the birth certificate. There is a nominal fee for issuance of the birth certificate but it is invaluable for the child for the rest of his life. From school enrolment to issuance of an NIC card, to obtaining a passport or finding employment, it serves as his official identity every step of the way.”

When a parent of the registered child comes to the UC office to receive the birth certificate, the first, but one of the most important official documents of the child’s life, is handed over without delay. At the same time, data of the registered child is transferred to the provincial office of NADRA and from there, to its head office as a permanent record of the fact of the child’s birth in Pakistan. 

© UNICEF/Pakistan/SamiMalik
Birth Certificate - the first, but one of the most important
official documents of a child’s life - being handed to a
parent at UC Office Dhabeji.
“Timely birth registration is a “passport for protection” for a child, says Jabeen Fatima Abbas,” UNICEF Child Protection Specialist. “Digitalisation of the birth registration process and collaboration with various government departments, as well as with the private sector, is the way forward to achieve universal birth registration for all children in Pakistan.”

 

 
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