In Zambia, Memory returns to the clinic where she became a Mum, and picks up a birth certificate

With EU support, UNICEF is working with the Government to boost birth registration in Zambia.

Precious Mumbi Habeenzu
A mother receives her child's birth certificate in Zambia.
13 September 2019

It was one of those phone calls that brings good news and makes a long walk go by quickly.

“I am very excited today because I received a call from Mr. Banda who informed me that Caroline’s birth certificate was ready for collection at the clinic,” says Memory Sakala, mother of 22-month-old Caroline. “It took me 45 minutes to walk from home to the clinic. I feel very proud and happy because I have finally given my daughter a chance to enjoy brilliant opportunities to better her life even without her knowing it.”

Memory is back at Mapalo Health Centre in Ndola’s Chipulukuso township, part of Zambia’s third largest city. She gave birth here almost two years ago.

As toddler Caroline watches the birth certificate being handed over, she looks intently, though can hardly know the importance of the document. And yet, as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked back in February 2005: “It’s a small paper but it establishes who you are and gives access to the rights and privileges, and obligations, of citizenship.”

Despite improving trends, very few children in Zambia have their births registered and receive a birth certificate. According to the 2017 Birth Registration Coverage Survey overall coverage for birth registration is 16.3 per cent in Zambia.

Promoting registration

Mapalo Health Centre manages close to 30 deliveries each month and it is during the antenatal sessions and post-delivery visits that Sister-in-Charge Ireen Malama encourages new and would-be mothers to register the births of their children.

A sister-in-charge in Zambia in front of files
Ireen Malama – Sister in Charge at Mapalo Health Centre in Zambia

“It was during one of my antenatal visits,” says Memory, “that I sat through a session and my attention was immediately drawn when the midwife, Sister Ireen, mentioned the importance for all expectant mothers to register the births of our babies as soon as we deliver.”

“Memory is one of the very inquisitive new mothers I had back in 2017 and I encouraged her to register the birth of her child,” says Ireen. “I am very happy to see her finally receive her daughter’s birth certificate.”

Ireen is the focal point for birth registration at the health centre, with a team of two birth registration officers/volunteers, John Bwalya and Andrew Banda. Like many Zambians, neither John nor Andrew have a birth certificate themselves. But both dedicate their time to help run the birth registration desk at the health centre, which was established in 2015 with funding from the European Union through the Millennium Development Goal Initiative (MDGi).

“The child who is not registered at birth is in danger of being shut out of society, denied the right to an official identity, a recognized name and a nationality,” says Andrew Banda as he hands out Caroline’s birth certificate.

To help boost birth registration in Zambia, the European Union is working through UNICEF to support the Ministry of Home Affairs improve communication around birth registration, increase the number of registration desks and help decentralise birth certificate production. Through a strategic partnership between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Health, 661 registration desks have now been established in health facilities.

The first printing centre outside the capital Lusaka was opened in Kabwe (Central Province) in November 2017 and this has since been followed by openings in Ndola (Copperbelt Province, July 2018), Choma (Southern Province, April 2019) and Mansa (Luapula Province, August 2019). The aim is to eventually have a printing centre in all ten provinces.

“I have many dreams for Caroline and this is just the first step to her already bright future,” says mother Memory. “I now await the next call to inform me that my own birth certificate is ready for collection! My message to all parents is that if they still have not registered the births of their children, they should do so right away.”

A mother in Zambia holds her baby daughter and a birth certificate.
A mother, baby daughter and birth certificate in Zambia.