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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Field diary: In DRC, youth advocates learn about their right to a legal identity

Adolescents participate in a media workshop in Kindu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By Bibiane Ambongo

KINDU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19 March 2012 – In a grand meeting room in Kindu, Maniema Province, 10 adolescents gathered for a media training. They would be learning how to write articles and make videos documenting issues and concerns in their community.

The five boys and five girls, ranging in age from 14 to 17 years, were a little intimidated, but eager to begin.    

Focus on birth registration

The training started with a discussion about children’s rights. I asked them if they had heard of The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and their answer was a resounding no.

My colleague, Ndiaga, and I spoke about the CRC, the most endorsed human rights treaty in the world, and then approached the issue of birth registration.

"By the way, you all have a birth certificate, correct?”  I said.

Ten pairs of eyes looked at me, surprised, as they shook their heads from left to right.

"Me, I do not,” said one child.

“Me neither, I've never seen it," the rest responded.

Not one of them had been legally registered since birth.

In a maternity hospital in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a clerk registers newborns.

This was not surprising. According to the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), a household survey developed by UNICEF, the government and other partners, only 28 per cent of children under five years old were recorded in the registry. And among recorded births, only 2 per cent were done within the legal time frame of three months after birth.

Yet Article 7 of the CRC requires that children be registered at birth in order to guarantee their right to a legal identity and to ensure their access to essential services and protections.

Innocent, who had been listening attentively, stood up, arms crossed, and announced, “The birth certificate is important. This is a document that gives us the right to a nationality, a name, a family.”

Rebecca added, "Later, if I want to attend a college abroad, it will be easier for me to get a passport, and a visa especially, if I have my birth certificate."

Addressing obstacles to registration

There remain several obstacles to birth registration, including parents’ lack of awareness about its importance, costs associated with obtaining a birth certificate, and the distance between state offices and residential areas.

To address these obstacles, some officials have begun moving the registration services to hospitals one day a week. There, newborns can be registered before leaving the maternity ward.

Adolescents learn about filmmaking as part of the media workshop in Kindu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"It's easier for us," said Gertrude, who brought her son Samuel, only few days old, to be registered. "Once we get out of the maternity ward, it is less convenient to go through all these steps."

And in the city of Mbandaka, Equateur Province, birth registration was coupled with a vaccination campaign, making the process easier for parents bringing their children for immunization.

UNICEF is currently providing technical, material and financial support to government partners and NGOs, helping to extend the reach of registration services. For example, mobile registration teams have been operating in Kinshasa since 2008, registering children in a vehicle provided by South African partners, with fuel provided by UNICEF.

"The Ministry of Interior and the Provincial Divisions of the Interior, with the technical and financial support from UNICEF, conduct activities related to capacity-building of personnel working in the registry offices, maternity care agents and social educators, precisely with the aim to convey the importance of birth registration at state registry offices," said Christmas Luenda, a legal officer in the Division of Urban Affairs.

After their training, the adolescents in the Kindu began to produce human interest stories and films to raise awareness about the problems facing their communities. But they were also motivated to speak to their parents about getting themselves registered – advocating not only for their peers and communities, but for themselves and their futures as well.



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