An Efficient and Streamlined DBR System Producing Desired Results in Pakistan
UNICEF's digital birth registration initiative funded by Telenor and led by the LG&CD Department of Punjab is providing every child an essential identity
Bahawalpur District, Punjab Province, Pakistan, 21 March 2022 - In Hakim Ali Wali, a village in Southern part of Pakistan’s Punjab province, the community had recently celebrated the arrival of its newest resident, Mukarram Hussain.
Two-month-old Mukarram is the second born to Khadija and her husband Jamshed Iqbal who already have a two-year-old daughter, Fareeha Jamshed.
The birth of a child calls for joy and celebration, with festivities that sometimes continue for days and weeks.
“We are very excited to have a baby boy as we already have a girl,” says Khadija. We feel that our family is now complete. When our children grow up, we would like them to go to school so that they get an education and find themselves a better occupation than working in the fields like us.”
Registering the child – a priority
As the celebrations ended, the family had two priorities – Mukarram’s vaccination and getting his Birth Registration Certificate. While Khadija and her mother-in-law managed the vaccination, her father-in-law, Pervaiz Ali, took the initiative to get the newly born child registered.
Few days ago, Pervaiz Ali invited an important guest to Khadija and Jamshed’s house. Muhammad Shoaib, the Nikah Registrar – an officially designated person who registers every marriage based on which a marriage certificate is issued to the couple. But Shoaib also has another important role of registering every newborn child. The purpose of his visit was to register Mukarram’s birth.
Birth registration is an important and necessary step for all children in Pakistan. Without it, a child cannot obtain a birth certificate, which is required for school enrolment, issuance of the National Identity Card (NIC) and a passport.
In the past, the birth registration process was notoriously cumbersome and time-consuming because of which many parents opted to leave their children unregistered. Some parents were also unaware of the benefits of birth registration.
In 2017, UNICEF collaborated with the Local Government & Community Development (LG&CD) Department, Punjab, to initiate the Digital Birth Registration (DBR) system in Bahawalpur district.
A total of 1444 Nikah Registrars were trained to register births with the help of smart phones provided to them by UNICEF. Most of these people are Imam’s (prayer leaders) in mosques and well respected in their communities. The aim is to register all new births within first 60 days and any other child who has not been registered so far.
“When I started working on birth registration, people were not interested as they did not realise its importance,” says Shoaib. “They also knew that it is a long and cumbersome process which would take them to visit the Union Council (UC) office multiple times. It took me a while to make them understand the long-term benefits of birth registration and how easy and efficient it has been made through the innovative method of registration through smart phones.”
An Innovative and Streamlined Process
The Digital Birth Registration initiative in Bahawalpur district is part of the larger effort to strengthen Pakistan’s birth registration system. To this end, UNICEF has been working with the LG&CD department, the National Data Base Registration Authority (NADRA) and Telenor, the Norwegian multinational telecommunications company, to register every child in various district of Punjab.
The new process is simple and streamlined. As soon as a Nikah Registrar trained in birth registration finds out that a child has been born in a community, he visits the family and logs the details of the newborn into his smart phone.
“When I visit a family where a child has been born, I feed the data, including the date and time of the child’s birth, parent’s names, NIC numbers and their address into my smart phone,” Shoaib explains. “I then take photographs of the parents’ NICs and transfer the data online to the UC office for verification.”
“The data fed into my smart phone is transferred online to a digital tablet which belongs to Ms. Sidra Mehboob, Secretary Community Development in UC 73. Once the data is verified by her, it is uploaded into the UC office database and a Civil Registration Management System (CRMS) number is given to the case,” Shoaib explains further.
“It took me a while to make them understand the long-term benefits of birth registration and how easy and efficient it has been made through the innovative method of registration through smart phones.”
Only a few days after Shoaib had digitally recorded the data about Mukarram’s birth, he calls Pervaiz Ali over to the UC office.
At the UC office, a thumb impression of Pervaiz Ali is recorded on a form in presence of the UC Secretary and Mukarram’s birth certificate is handed to him.
“Timely birth registration is a ‘passport for protection’ for a child,” says Sidra Mehboob, Secretary UC 73. It is invaluable for the child for his entire 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.”
Led by the LG&CD department and funded by Telenor, UNICEF’s mobile phone birth registration initiative has borne great results in Bahawalpur district. Around 483,000 children were registered between 2017 to 2020. The rate of birth registration ratio in Bahawalpur which was 42 percent prior to the initiation of the DBR system has increased to 49.6 percent.
The DBR system which was initially introduced in five districts has now been expanded to all 36 districts of Punjab.
Digitalization 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.