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Birth registration: Right of every child

ANITA Siameja, a Kabwe mother, explaining to journalists at Kasanda Health Centre how she has come to appreciate the value of a birth certificate

NKOLE NKOLE, Chisamba
ANITA Siameja is a Kabwe resident and mother of two boys who has come to appreciate the true value of a birth certificate.
In 2015 when the process of birth registration was decentralised and introduced in Kabwe, she eventually became a beneficiary of the programme.
Before the decentralisation occurred, she would have had to travel all the way to Lusaka to start the process of birth registration from the Department of National Registration, Passports and Citizenship (DNRPC) headquartered in Lusaka.
Now that both her sons have birth certificates, she can breathe a sigh of relief.
“One of the benefits of this certificate is that my child will know his nationality and it will help me enrol him in school,” Ms Siameja says.
Ms Siameja and other mothers like her were educated on the importance of a birth certificate through clinical staff based at Kasanda clinic in Kabwe.
Emmanuel Mwale is the birth registration coordinator at the clinic, where mothers are now obtaining birth certificates from.
On Wednesdays and Fridays, staff like Mr Mwale reach out to the local community to spread awareness on the importance of birth registration.
The clinic conducts birth registration on Mondays when new-borns are scheduled to receive vaccinations in the fourth and sixth weeks following delivery.
Clinical staff use ‘Notice of Birth’ forms to record the details of babies scheduled for birth registration.
“As a facility we have our own record books where we enter the same details that are recorded in the notice of birth forms before we submit them to the Department of National Registration, Passports and Citizenship,” Mr Mwale explains.
Once the clinic receives the birth certificates that are processed and printed at the DNRPC office in Kabwe, it then gets in touch with the mothers so that they are collected.
Since the exercise began in October 2015, the clinic has handed out over 300 certificates to mothers within the community.
Ideally, a birth should be registered as soon as a child is born or within 30 days after a birth has occurred.
When a birth is registered, a permanent record is established and a person uses his or her birth certificate to prove age, parentage and hence claim citizenship.
Many benefits are said to arise from birth registration. Legally, for instance, it protects a child from being prosecuted as an adult or used as a labourer.
Economically, it provides population data that can be of use to the government for budgetary planning to ensure that resources are better distributed.
Given that it is difficult to fight social challenges such as early marriages, birth registration can help ascertain a child’s age and curb the occurrences of early marriages.
Depending on the circumstance, a further compounding problem arising from the lack of a birth certificate is the difficulty in claiming inheritance following the loss of a parent.
Birth registration is a branch of civil registration and was a focus area of a recently held media workshop in Chisamba hosted by the DNRPC in collaboration with UNICEF and the European Union (EU).
Civil Registration is defined by the United Nations (UN) as the continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to the population in accordance with the legal requirements of each country.
These vital events are live births, adoptions, legitimations, recognitions, deaths, foetal deaths, marriages, divorces and separations.
The DNRPC is mandated to register births and deaths, according to Registration Act Chapter 51 of the Laws of Zambia.
Zambia has one of the least developed civil registration and vital statistics systems which is a concern to Government and stakeholders.
In 2012, registration coverage was at less than five percent, according to an internal assessment carried out by the DNRPC.
UNICEF Zambia Chief of Child Protection Katlin Brasic says over the last five years, UNICEF has worked closely with Zambia through the DNRPC to develop evidence- based interventions that support the strengthening of the National Civil Registration System in general and birth registration in particular.
“For instance, in 2012, UNICEF supported the DNRPC by undertaking an analysis on birth registration in Zambia to learn more about the bottlenecks and barriers for people registering their children,” Ms Brasic shares.
With fewer than one in five births registered, Zambia has one of the lowest birth registration rates in Africa, which can mainly be attributed to a general lack of awareness on the value of birth registration.
Five percent of the poorest population has at least 20 percent of children registered while 31 percent of the richest have 20 percent registered.
It was therefore realised that in order to scale up the process of birth registration, various stakeholders needed to come together.
The DNRPC was also supported by UNICEF to conduct a comprehensive review of the National Civil Registration and Vital Statistics system upon realising that birth registration is part of the bigger civil registration agenda.
Resulting from the comprehensive assessment was the development of the 2015-2019 Civil Registration and Vital Statistics National Strategic Plan.
Findings from the assessments showed that Zambia has low civil registration coverage due to three main reasons.
“Firstly, what we call the ‘enabling environment’, secondly, the centralised supply or service delivery system and, thirdly, low demand by communities,” explains Ms Brasic.
UNICEF recognises that whilst the legal provisions for birth registration have been relatively strong, enforcement has not.
This has encouraged its partnership with Government through the Ministry of Health (MoH) and EU to establish close to 500 birth registration desks in health facilities across the country.
Registrar General, Matthews Nyirongo acknowledges that birth registration is specifically low in sub-Saharan Africa.
“According to a statement issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa on May 21, 2013, only 44 percent of children under the age of five in Africa are registered and millions more are not protected with legal identity documents,” Mr Nyirongo says.
The MoH established that a specific challenge which is keeping birth registration numbers low in Zambia is the wide acceptance of alternative user documents such as the birth record which is often taken to be the birth certificate.
While birth records are provided at health facilities, they are not a substitute for birth certificates.
Other factors include naming because upon discharge from a hospital following delivery, a baby should have a name and this should aid registration but without a name, a baby cannot be registered.
The long distances that must be covered for one to obtain a birth certificate through the DNRPC have for many years hindered rather than helped the process of birth registration.
While decentralisation is helping reduce the inconvenience of acquiring birth certificates, the digitisation of services offered by the DNRPC is also facilitating the faster pace at which the birth certification process occurs.
Civil registration and vital statistics are not only important in advancing Zambia’s development agenda but in accelerating regional integration and meeting globally set targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Additionally, Zambia is a signatory to international instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of a Child (ACRWC), both of which recognise birth registration as an undeniable right of children.
The DNRPC is, therefore, hopeful that with increased media awareness, birth registration coverage can rise considerably throughout the country to help guide policy that benefits all who legally identify as Zambian citizens.

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