Digital Birth Registration helps make Pakistan a safer place for children
Only woman in a team of 115 men helps digitally register children
Bahawalpur, Pakistan - 29 March 2019: “Working with people and convincing them to change their behavior for the best can sometimes be more difficult than it seems,” says Rubina Kausar, the Union Council (UC) Secretary in Bahawalpur District, as she sifts through a pile of birth certificates lying on her table.
“People in my community did not even know the purpose of birth registration, let alone its benefits. But together with the help of Nikkah Registrars (NRs), the local clerics, we are now informing the communities about why it is so important, while ensuring that every child is registered in the system.”
Rubina is the only female in a team of 115 male UC secretaries in her district. A UC Secretary is a local government officer who acts as a focal person to register births, deaths, marriages and divorces in a community.
"Working with people and convincing them to change their behavior for the best can sometimes be more difficult than it seems,"
In Pakistan, approximately 60 million children remain unregistered, out of which 25 million are living in the province of Punjab. Bahawalpur, the 11th largest district of the country, hosts an estimated 761,000 unregistered children, and this number is increasing every day.
“Sometimes working as the only woman amongst men can be really difficult. I really wish there were more women on the team,” Rubina tells, though she says her male colleagues are supportive.
“I tend to forget what I have achieved when we are called for meetings and briefings, but my male colleagues always step forward and encourage me. My family also believes in my abilities. All this support helps me to be successful in my work for children, motivate myself to achieve more, and continue my career.”
Rubina is very passionate about birth registration, a fundamental right of every child and a basic function of the government. It provides the legal proof of a child’s existence and identity and serves as a “passport to protection” for the child. Among its many benefits, birth registration helps prevent child labor and early marriages, and it ensures that children are not treated as adults by the justice system since their exact age is known.
Birth Registration is also critical for a child’s safety -- in times of disaster and emergencies, it is easier to reunite registered children with their parents or caregivers compared to children whose births are not registered.
To ensure that every child in Pakistan is registered and remains protected, UNICEF is helping build the capacity of local authorities and communities on digital birth registration in seven districts of Punjab. The project is being implemented thanks to funding from the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development and Telenor, the second largest cellular and digital services provider in Pakistan.
Under this project, UNICEF is training the UC Secretaries and NRs on the use of android-based mobile phones and tablets for birth registration. The NRs visit families in their communities, using digital devices to enter data into the dashboard, which is verified by the UC secretary, who then issues a registration number to the child.
The digital system enables quick and cost-free birth registration, saving parents the time and money they previously required in purchasing forms and submitting them to several offices after waiting in long lines. The form fee costed about five US dollars, a substantial sum of money for underprivileged families.
In a quest to ensure that all children’s births in her community are registered, Rubina has also taken upon herself to join the Nikkah Registrar (marriage registrar) and senior cleric Qari Mohammad Bakhsh Awaisi on home visits. Having a woman and a man visit families together is helpful as sometimes, women in the community are more comfortable speaking to a woman than a man.
“I have been working as a cleric in this community for over 38 years now,” says Qari Awaisi. “I have seen Rubina come a long way and I am immensely proud of her. Seeing her work as a one-woman army, I can tell that she is doing crucial work at the service of the people in her community.”
"I am immensely proud of Rubina. Seeing her work as a one-woman army, I can tell that she is doing crucial work at the service of the people in her community."
Birth registration of children in Punjab through digital and hybrid models has been a big success so far, says Muqaddisa Mehreen, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in Islamabad.
“The strategy is to link health, education and birth registration services to register as many children as possible, with a focus on those who are under five years of age. The system is promoting transparency, ease of access and provision of services at the doorstep of families, maximizing the impact of resources to improve the lives of the most vulnerable families,” she adds.
Since July 2017, more than 100,000 children have been registered in the district of Bahawalpur. Together with the government of Pakistan, UNICEF aims to register all children aged between 0 to five years by the year 2022.