Birth registration in rural areas gaining ground


THE ability to prove one’s identity is essential to securing a number of lifeenhancing services such as healthcare, education, financial services, connectivity and social protections. However, at least 1.5 billion people still lack an official form of identification and in many countries, this problem disproportionately affects the most vulnerable segments of society such as the poor, individuals fleeing persecution or conflict, women and children.

According to the Innovations in Mobile Birth Registration report, for decades, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as a number of international treaties, have guaranteed every child the right to be registered at birth and the right to both a name and nationality. More recently, the Sustainable Development Goals have set a global target to provide every person with a legal identity - including birth registration - by 2030.

As a permanent recording of a child’s identity and the first legal recognition of the child by its government, birth registration helps to bestow access to a number of vital services, including access to healthcare and immunisations, education and social protections. For national governments, birth registration is also a vital first step in establishing a robust Civil Registration system – an essential tool for effectively planning and monitoring the delivery of public services, development policies and infrastructure programmes.

Even so, UNICEF estimates that globally the births of 230 million children under five have not been registered, and every year 50 million children are born into this state of invisibility. Close to 99 per cent of unregistered births take place in developing countries, where parents face a number of supply and demand-side barriers including inefficient and fragmented government processes, prohibitive costs, and a lack of awareness of the benefits of registration.

In 2005, according to DHS (Demographic and Health Surveys), only 55 per cent of children in Senegal and 21 per cent in Uganda were registered at birth. These figures are similar to those achieved in Tanzania (22 per cent), (31 per cent) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and (39 per cent) in Guinea Bissau. In today’s world, it is increasingly evident that the mobile industry is uniquely positioned to bring the benefits of digital technology to many of the poorest and hardest to reach communities around the world and help address a wide range of socioeconomic challenges.

There are now more than 4.7 billion unique mobile phone subscribers globally, and over 70 per cent of the world’s population is expected to own a mobile subscription by the end of this decade. In developing countries, more than 40 per cent of internet connections are now made using mobile broadband, and falling device prices are encouraging the rapid adoption of smartphones; in Africa alone more than 400 million new smartphone connections will be added by 2020.

Data shows that only modest levels of improvement in birth registration rates were made in least developed countries between 2000 and 2010, with rates increasing from 32 per cent to 43 per cent. It has become clear that faster progress with registration is required, especially in Sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia, where rapid population growth means that the need for robust civil registries is more urgent than ever.

To this end, between 2011 and 2012, government ministries in both Tanzania and Pakistan began to look for opportunities to improve and augment their existing birth registration processes through the introduction of mobile technology. Since 2012, the government of Tanzania, UNICEF, the telecommunication company Tigo and the Canadian Embassy, joined hands to develop and implement an innovative mobile application to register children under 5 years.

The decentralised birth registration system moves the points of registration closer to the community. It establishes registration points at health facilities, which provide reproductive and child health services, and at the community ward executive offices in line with the government policy of decentralisation through devolution. The exercise has bridged the rural-urban divide, improving access to the most marginalised communities to register their children.

It addresses the core issues of accessibility and affordability which has been a major barrier in the birth registration system in Tanzania. With the roll out of the system in the two regions parents can easily access more than 790 registration points compared to 11 registration points available earlier. More than 1,700 Registration Assistants are trained to support the registration process.

With the new system the government has also waived the fee for registration and the first copy of the certificate is given free of charge, making it ‘one step, one visit’ process for parents to acquire the birth certificate. Through the use of mobile phone technology data is instantly transferred and uploaded through SMS, facilitating a real-time tracking of progress. The roll out in Mara and Simiyu, would add two regions joining Lindi, Mtwara, Geita, Shinyanga, Mbeya, Songwe, Mwanza, Iringa and Njombe which have already been covered reaching 2 million under-five children.

“Birth registration helps to ensure that every child has access to the health and social services they are entitled to”, said Ian Myles, High Commissioner for Canada in Tanzania. “Canada is a proud supporter of Tanzania’s efforts to promote birth registration, enabling children and their families to exercise their basic rights as Tanzanian citizens. “We are delighted to witness the roll-out of the programme in Mara and Simiyu, building on the highly successful roll-outs in Iringa, Njombe, Geita, Shinyanga, Lindi and Mtwara.” So far the programme has reached 58 District Councils in nine regions of Tanzania mainland.

Speaking at a recent launch ceremony, TIGO’s Lake Zonal Director, Joseph Mutalemwa said together we have a vested stake in ensuring the country’s prosperity and that of its people. TIGO’s decision to support this initiative underscores our commitment to build a strong societal ecosystem that brings the promise of technology in communities where we operate. “

With this innovation, TIGO is making positive and significant contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals and the protection of child rights. Additionally, this partnership showcases the role mobile service providers can play in addressing a pressing social need through application of their technology and expertise,” he said. Last month more than 700,000 under five children in Mara and Simiyu regions benefitted from the rolling out of the decentralised birth registration system that was launched.

The simplified birth registration system enabled the registration of all new births and reduce the backlog of unregistered under five children in the two regions. “We are transforming the system to make it easier for children and their families to access the entitlement of a birth certificate,” said Emmy Hudson, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Registration, Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (RITA), responsible for registration of vital events including births.

She added that; “Now parents can receive birth certificates from the designated health facilities or through the ward executive offices timely. The system has helped thousands of children in the regions where the decentralised system is in operation and we plan to replicate this throughout Tanzania Mainland in the shortest possible time.” Ms Hudson said that the government duly recognises the contribution of the government of Canada, UNICEF and TIGO for their commitments to this course.

UNICEF Representative in Tanzania Ms Maniza Zaman said that every child has the right to an identity. And that this new system is reversing the low level of birth registration with the result that millions of children under-five who were invisible in the nation’s records, will now be visible. “This will help more Tanzanian children to claim their rights and be protected, and the government will have better data for policy and planning,” she said.

TIGO is supporting the initiative through mobile technology, which ensures that birth registration data is uploaded and sent to a central database at RITA in real time. TIGO is also using its media platforms for raising awareness about the importance of birth registration in Tanzania

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