By Kizito Makoye Shigela
LUNYANYWI, Tanzania (ACP-IDN) – At a remote ward in Tanzania’s southern highlands, the entire village has gathered to celebrate the birth of a new member of their community.
Antonia Kisena (38) and her husband Moses (45) smile broadly as they welcome a baby boy they have named Anold. “My husband always wished to get a baby boy this time around, thank God it happened just like that,” says Kisena happily.
In most rural communities like this, the birth of a baby boy is a cause for celebration, because it is seen as a blessing to the community. Every time a baby boy is born, the villagers – young and old – must come together to welcome him by singing and performing traditional rituals. “It’s our tradition, you cannot simply get away from it,” says Kisena.
Unlike many children born in the village, Anold was lucky to get his birth certificate as soon as he was born. “It was a very quick process. Everything was captured by a mobile phone and the document was issued instantly,” explains Kisena.
This was made possible thanks to innovative technology through which parents can now register their children under the age of five as part of an initiative to scale up birth registration.
Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in sub-Saharan Africa, with only 16 percent of children under the age of five registered with civil authorities, according to the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey.
Globally, around 290 million children do not possess a birth certificate, according to UNICEF.
The initiative, known as mBirth, is an innovative mobile phone registration system which is now being used to register child births in remote areas. It is run by the Registration Insolvency & Trusteeship Agency (RITA) in conjunction with Tigo, a mobile phone operator, and UNICEF.
RITA's Acting Executive Director said the government expects to register 3.5 million children under the age of five in the next five years. “We are determined to provide quality services to ensure that many children are being registered within that time frame.”
Currently, birth registration in Tanzania is a three-step process involving notification of a birth event, registration and certification.
Most parents in rural areas, however, find it increasingly hard to register their children due to high cost, long distances to registry offices, and lack of awareness of the benefits.
Parents have to pay 3,500 Tanzanian shillings (USD 1.6) if they request a birth certificate within 90 days of a child's birth, or 4,000 shillings afterwards, in addition to travel costs. “None of my other children are registered because I found it very expensive,” said Kisena.
The new system, however, has simplified birth registration by entering the registration information into a mobile phone which sends the data to a central database in real time.
According to Hudson, the system allows a health worker to send the baby's name, gender, date of birth and family details by phone to a central database and a birth certificate is issued free of charge in days. A birth certificate is one of the most important documents a child will ever possess. It contains important information, which authorities can use to effectively plan for the children’s future.
Child rights campaigners say that ensuring registration of every child's birth is key to safeguarding basic rights and access to healthcare, education and justice. Birth registration also helps protect children from exploitation, including child labour, child marriage, trafficking and early recruitment into armed forces.
Most parents in Tanzania often take advantage of lack of birth certificates to marry off their daughters for money instead of sending them to school. They sometimes use parental discretion to marry off girls as young as 14.
Sexual violence is one of the most unsettling of children’s rights violations. Yet underreporting and the lack of comparable data limit understanding of the full extent of the problem, campaigners say. Lack of a birth certificate has also subjected under-age girls to domestic servitude and trafficking with fake documents indicating that they are 18, according to child rights campaigners.
Globally, the share of girls and boys among victims of human trafficking (21 percent and 13 percent, respectively) peaked in 2011. By 2014, the figures had dropped to 18 percent and 7 percent, respectively, but were still almost twice the levels recorded for 2004, according to the United Nations.
Ultimately, birth registration shows that children belong to a family, a community and a nation, and guarantees their right to assume their place in the social and political life of the country as adults. Meanwhile, in Ghana, where the new system is also being introduced, more than four in 10 children are not registered at birth. And even when children are registered, many do not have a birth certificate – about 15 percent of the registered children below the age of five do not have a birth certificate.
Under mBirth registration, a total of 670,000 births are due to be registered. The initiative aims to improve the rate of birth registration by up to 70 percent by the end of 2016. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 November 2016]
Photo: Tanzania's Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Harrison Mwakyembe hands over a birth certificate to a two years old Justine Masawe during a handover ceremony in Njombe early in October 2015. Credit: Kizito Makoye | IDN-INPS