New one-stop-shop for birth certificates

The key to children's rights

UNICEF Tanzania
Mother and child holding birth certificate
UNICEF/Magari
05 July 2019

Eva Simbeye Stephania, 17, balances her five-month-old son, Crispin, as she sits in a room marked ‘office of complaints’ at the Mbalizi hospital in Mbeya. But it isn’t a complaint she has come to register, it is her little boy.

Registration Officer Abushidi Andrew enters the information in a large pad and stamps a form before handing Eva a birth certificate for her son, the child’s first form of identity. This small paper will make a huge difference-- it holds the key to all the services he will need throughout his life, from health and education to employment and banking.

Eva didn’t know getting a birth certificate was so easy. In fact, she didn’t even know how to get one at all until that morning, when she brought Crispin for his monthly routine check-up at the child clinic nearby.

Making registration easy, accessible, and free for children under-5 has been key to increasing registration rates through the decentralized birth registration programme.

So far, the low birth registration numbers in Tanzania have been  an outcome of factors such as cost,  which  included a processing fee of TSH 3,500 (US$1.6), with the cost increasing after 90 days and again after the child is over 10 years old; distance, since many people could not afford the travel to the district headquarter town for certification; and the low levels of awareness amongst parents who aren’t informed of the benefits of birth registration.

In response to these challenges, the Government of Tanzania together with UNICEF rolled out a programme to simplify registration, making it free for children under-5 and bringing registration services as close to communities as possible by decentralizing the registration points to health facilities and Ward Offices. In Iringa and Njombe districts, the decentralization initiative successfully led to a large increase in registration. Within four weeks of the launch, more than 220,000 children under-5 received a birth certificate, moving from 10.3 per cent of under-5 registrations to over 95 per cent according to UNICEF in 2016.

Health facilities and Ward Executive Offices are now empowered to register births, and this is all done in one place during one appointment. In addition, raising awareness about the new service and waiving the fee for registration and certification (the first copy of the birth certificate is given free of cost for children under-5) has considerably increased the rate of registration in the country. Finally, mobile phone technology has allowed instant transfer of data for real-time tracking of progress that has helped focus on poorly performing areas and take quick action on problems.

Birth certificates are an important protection measure for safeguarding the rights of children, who require a birth certificate to have legal standing with the state and receive services including health and education. In addition, a certificate also provides proof of age, which is a key measure in addressing trafficking and child marriage, substantive rights violations affecting children in Tanzania. According to Maud Droogleever Fortuyn, Chief of Child Protection in UNICEF, besides being a helpful planning tool, certification is critical for matters relating to legal age, judicial status, parental authority, child marriage and travel. “These are all-encompassing issues, a birth certificate provides children some essential legal protection” she says.

The programme has been successful in Mbeya, where registration is at 67 per cent, which is higher than the national average (30 per cent) though it’s still lower than some other regions, which have reached closer to 90 per cent.

Eva knows first-hand that birth certification is important. She herself does not have a birth certificate of her own; the government has waived the fee for children under-5 but hers will cost money. She has no health insurance either because that too requires a certificate, although free services for pregnant women allowed her to have a hospital delivery. Otherwise, she says, “you can’t go to the hospital, it’s all tied together.”

“Without it, I might not be able to get important things for the baby now and when he grows older,” Eva says, expressing hope that Crispin’s “life will be easier with the birth certificate.” Before having the baby, Eva used to sell charcoal by the side of the road. Now she plans to get her own birth certificate so that she may get a job and improve her life as well.

Nearly 3 million children under-5 are registered in TZ! @CanadaTanzania w/ @UNICEFTanzania in partnership w/ @Tigo_TZ is supporting the TZ Govt to improve birth registration & certification rates. @HCPamelaO, the High Commissioner of @CanadaTanzania tells us more! #EveryChild, counts #DevInspired #IDW2019

Posted by UNICEF TANZANIA on Friday, February 8, 2019

Thanks to the support from Global Affairs Canada(GAC), birth registration initiatives were made possible in Mbeya and Mwanza. GAC is also funding the initiative in Iringa and Njombe, with a commitment to fund scaling up activities to 8 additional regions.