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Liberia launches a decentralized birth registration and certification system for children

Monrovia, Liberia, 30 July 2010 - “In my village, people count a child’s age by the number of farms (annual harvests) their parents make. I am happy that my son has a birth certificate and is officially registered in the country’s record,” said Love Gibson, the mother of two-year old Jacob Jallah.  Jacob was the first child to be registered and certified by the new decentralized birth registration and certification system of Liberia that was launched today at the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia.

There are more than 50 million children in the world whose births have not been registered. Sixty percent of these children live in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. In Liberia, only 4% of under-five children out of 750,000 are registered and possess birth certificates, the second lowest in the world. This means that more than 20% of the population of Liberia is officially ‘non-existent,’ without names or record of birth.

The new birth registration and certification system aims to register and provide birth certificates to all children in Liberia, approximately 1.6 million of them, by the end of 2011. “This is an important programme of the government to have a credible recording system that will aid in quality planning and budgeting for children and overall national development,” said Liberia’s Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, as he launched the birth registration and certification system in front of hundreds of mothers and children, and officials from the government, diplomatic missions, UN, civil society organizations and the media.

Led by the multi sectoral National Universal Birth Registration Task Force, and the Office/Bureau of Vital Statistics, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the registration and certification process will be carried out in two phases, the first phase (till the end of 2010) targeting under-five children in six counties, and the second phase in 2011 will register all children in all the 15 counties.

Families in villages or towns can register their children directly with the Assistant Registrar at the office of the General Town Chief or at the local health facility. The district registrars compile and send these records electronically to the national database via smart phones. The registration forms are also archived at the county
office. Based on these forms and the electronic records retrieved  from the national database, the county offices print the birth certificates. The certificates are collected by the district registrar and delivered to the child’s family.  The whole process will take a maximum of two weeks. 

Speaking on behalf of the UN system in Liberia, the UNICEF Representative, Ms.  Isabel Crowley said, “Children have to count and be counted for the development of this beautiful country. The United Nations reaffirms it continued support to the government and civil society in making birth registration a successful and sustainable system.”

The birth registration and certification system has become a reality due to the combined efforts of the government, civil societies, the private sector and the UN. While the government’s Vital Statistics Bureau and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare  is coordinating the whole process in the country, Crisis Management Initiative (NGO) is supporting web based technologies through smart phones in partnership with  private companies like Nokia and CellCom, Plan Liberia (NGO) is leading the awareness and social mobilization, UNHCR is supporting the recording and documentation process, and UNICEF is investing in supply of birth certificates, data base development  and training of officials and volunteers involved in the registration and certification process.

Partnership and involvement of community officials and leaders in communities is crucial for the success of the registration and certification process. Consultations and trainings are presently undergoing across the country with more than 1500 paramount chiefs, town chiefs and county /district officials. In the coming months, community radios, schools, youth and women groups, sports groups and traditional communicators will all be involved in spreading awareness and encouraging families to register their children.

Back at the John F. Kennedy Hospital, Love Gibson is proudly displaying Jacob’s birth certificate.  “I am going to put this certificate in a frame and hang it on my wall. This certificate will make a big difference in Jacob’s life. I will encourage other mothers out there to make sure their children also get a birth certificate,” she said.

For more information, please contact: 
Miraj Pradhan, Communications Specialist, UNICEF Liberia. Tel +231 6282074



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