2014: UNICEF supports government in reaching hard-to-reach with birth registration
By Betty Chella Nalungwe
PETAUKE, Zambia – Birth registration is the official recording by the state of a child’s birth. It is the permanent official record of a child’s existence and fundamental to the realization of children’s rights and practical needs.
UNICEF is working with the Government of the Republic of Zambia to address the low coverage of birth registration in the country. Zambia’s birth registration rate stands at about 10 per cent. Two major bottlenecks highlighted in a 2012 Zambia birth registration analysis were the long distances parents and other caregivers have to travel to register their children and the low demand due to lack of knowledge among communities on the importance of registering their children.
UNICEF together with visiting supporters from UNICEF Ireland had an opportunity to visit and receive first-hand information on the birth registration process. The field visit took the team to Minga Mission Hospital and the Petauke Urban Clinic in Eastern Province, one of the pilot provinces of UNICEF Zambia’s national birth registration drive.
“Being able to register for and get a birth certificate for my child is really good. I am assured that my child will benefit from the services that government offers its citizens. I was able to complete the application forms through a radio instruction, again another helpful facility for people who cannot read like myself” were the words of Ms. Faides Sakala, a beneficiary of the service at Minga Mission Hospital.
UNICEF Ireland volunteer Brona Neilandshared shared this piece on her visit: “Each one of the four Aer Lingus UNICEF ambassadors were assigned a specific day to be the delegation co-leader and also assigned a specific topic that we would take a particular interest in and report back – mine was the issue of birth registration in Zambia.”
“UNICEF is working hard to help people, particularly young mothers, realize the importance of registering their children's birth. They will need a birth certificate to get an identity card which is very important in later life, and perhaps even a passport. Every child has a right to be registered at birth. Registering a birth also helps to ensure a child's right to education and health care.”
“We were lucky enough to be invited to the Mission Hospital, a health post in a rural area 20 kilometers out in a sub-district to observe birth registration in a rural setting. Here we met and chatted with young women who were either registering the birth or else collecting the certificates that had been registered some months earlier. And therein lies another major problem, added to the lack of awareness, is the sheer lack of resources. There is only one registrar licensed to sign off every solitary birth certificate for the entire country. He is based in Lusaka, the capital city, so it can take months from the time of registering, to the time of receiving a birth certificate,” Neiland shared.
“One area where we could see directly where our passengers generous donations have gone is the purchase of brand new motorbikes, which enable staff to access remote districts and collect or distribute birth certificates where otherwise people may have had to walk 10 to 15 km to collect them,” Neiland concluded.
In order to address these problems, the Ministries of Health, Home Affairs, and Community Development Mother and Child Health, with support from UNICEF, have embarked on a strategy of taking the service closer to local communities through the establishment of birth registration desks in health facilities.
The desks are being established in health facilities as these facilities are found in almost every community. The project is currently being piloted in 3 provinces. From April 2013 when the project was launched, 35 desks have so far been established. The desk service in Luapula Province resulted in 3,149 children being registered last year compared to 149 in 2012. In Eastern Province 2,009 children have been registered at the 32 new desks, compared to 150 children in 2012 – while for Southern Province 30 desks were opened in December 2013 where so far 2,178 children have been registered.
“The integration of birth registration into existing public health services (such as primary health care, medical assistance at birth, immunisation/vaccinations) is a cost-effective, efficient and sustainable way of ensuring birth registration, since parents are able to receive both services during one visit. The strategy is also helping in birth registration demand- creation as health workers use their interaction with their patients to also explain the value of birth registration to the parents including the benefits that come with,” said UNICEF Zambia Representative Dr. Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim.
Although the programme is going on well there are still a number of challenges such as staff capacity building, transport and office equipment, among others. So far UNICEF has donated 70 motorbikes at a cost of USD126,452.56 to help mitigate the transport problems being faced by the district registration officers in the collection and delivery of applications and certificates respectively from the health facilities; some of which are more than 50 kilometres away from the nearest district. UNICEF has also donated computers to assist the districts in data production, management, and verification.
“For 2014 UNICEF plans to support government in consolidating this 3 province pilot project so that it can be used as a model to lobby for scale-up to the remaining 7 provinces over the next few years. The support for this year will include, among others, training and capacity building of health workers, registration officers, and volunteer community workers to help improve their motivation and competence. It will also include support to the legal review process in order for the law to allow for the decentralization of the issuance process,” said UNICEF Zambia Chief, Child Protection Maud Droogleever Fortuyn.
Nalungwe is UNICEF Zambia’s Senior Communications Assistant.