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Birth Registration in Somaliland

UNICEF Somalia 2015/Makundi
© UNICEF Somalia 2015/Makundi
A social mobiliser shows Khadra Mohamed, where his son birth details will be entered on the birth registration book.

By Athanas Makundi

BURAO, Somaliland,  21 May 2015 – In the dimly lit postnatal care room in Burao General Hospital baby Hasna Shafia Hassan is fast asleep. She is only a few hours old. Her mother, Asiya Mohamed lies in bed recovering. The nurse comes in, writes the baby’s name, date and place of birth and other relevant details on a form and hands it to her mother.

“We are making sure that every child born here gets a birth notification,” says Farhiya Abdi, the nurse responsible for registering births at Burao which is the largest referral hospital in Togdheer region. “We also let educate them about the child’s rights.”

Once Asiya and her baby leave hospital, she will take the birth notification to the civil registration office and, after verification, will receive an official birth certificate and Hasna will then become a legally recognized citizen.

“I didn’t know anything about birth registration,” says Asiya, the mother of four other children, who have never been registered. “Now, I know, it is important because my child will be entitled to benefits in future like free education or health.”

The birth registrations at Burao Hospital are part of a new programme which is the first civil registration activity by Somali authorities in more than 22 years. UNICEF is supporting the Somaliland Ministries of Health and Interior in a pilot programme to help hospitals and health centres in Burao register all newborn babies and children under five. The Health Ministry coordinates the issuing of birth notifications by hospitals and health centres - while local Civil Registration offices under the Interior Ministry provide the birth certificates.

Up to now births have been registered by hospitals or other non-government institutions on an informal basis. Somalia has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in the world at just three percent – with fewer than seven percent of children in Somaliland in the north west being registered.

“Birth registration is the first step to protecting children from all kinds of violence, abuse and exploitation,” says Issa Ahmed Nur, UNICEF Child Protection Officer based in Somaliland. “It is a proof that a child exists and has rights and access to all kinds of services. It is an obligation for the government to provide those services.”

In January the Federal Government of Somalia based in Mogadishu ratified The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) under which all children are entitled to a legally registered name and nationality. The Somaliland authorities have expressed support for the CRC.

UNICEF and its partner are targeting all unregistered children under-five. Former Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) have been tasked to visit communities to create awareness on the importance of birth registration and of obtaining a birth certificate for every child.

“Most people don’t understand why their children should be registered,” says Ibaado Omar Adawe - a former TBA who has received training on birth registration. “They have many questions, but we tell them that children are entitled to basic rights and to access them, they need to be registered and possess a birth certificate.”

The word is getting out and mothers queue to register their children at Dr Allaq Maternal and Child Health Clinic on the outskirts of Burao town,. The clinic has been busy following the awareness campaign in the area but there are still problems.

“Sometimes, when parents don’t agree on a name for their child, we send them home to decide first,” says Sahra Abdi Ibrahim, the head midwife. “We cannot register the child until they choose a permanent name that will not be changed. Once they decide, we encourage them to come back and get the child registered.”

The data from birth registration also gives the authorities a better idea of population numbers.

UNICEF Somalia 2015/Makundi
© UNICEF Somalia 2015/Makundi
Farhiya Abdi Hassan receives a birth notification slip, which she will use at the civil registration office to obtain a birth certificate for her daughter.

“We need a functioning birth registration system that gives a clear picture, at any given time, of the number of children born in Somaliland,” says Habiba Ahmed Saed, the Director of Civil Registration in Burao District. “This data is critical for planning and provision of basic social services.”

Under the pilot scheme every health facility inputs their birth registration data into a computer-based application linked to database. Eventually it is planned to directly link the hospitals and health centres with the civil registration offices, so that mothers can go home with a birth certificate for their baby after delivery.

”The idea is to make birth registration widely accessible in the whole of Somaliland,” says Kawsar Suleiman Gure, Regional Coordinator for the Birth Registration Pilot Programme in Burao District. “The Health Ministry is training train personnel to take the services to rural areas. We would also like to include birth registration in immunization campaigns for example and get schools to ask for birth certificates before enrolling pupils.”

Since the pilot began in November some 21 health facilities have carried out birth registration activities and the number is expected to rise if there is more support.




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