European Union (EU)-UNICEF programme sees birth registration numbers soar

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In just three years, the European Union-UNICEF programme to strengthen civil registration systems for universal registration of births in four countries in Africa has resulted in catalytic system changes and increased birth registration, UNICEF said today.

Since 2017, the programme has supported birth registration in targeted districts of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Uganda and Zambia – four countries where registration rates have stagnated or remained stubbornly low.

The absence of a birth certificate hampers children’s access to fundamental rights such as education and health care; inhibits Governments ability to plan and budget; and leaves children at greater risk of violations such as child marriage and child labour.

As such, the timely EU-UNICEF 6 million Euro partnership targeted districts with challenges in access to civil registration services.

“With investments from the European Union, more than 600 birth registration desks have been set-up in Zambian health facilities, which is an excellent mechanism for scaling-up birth registration as this is the place where babies are born and where mothers come with their young children,” said Robert De Raeve, European Union Chargé d’Affaires in Zambia. “We are very proud that the births of close to 450,000 children have been registered between 2015 and 2018.”

From 2017 to 2019 registration, rates doubled in the two regions of Cameroon – Mokolo and Betare – where the EU-UNICEF programme was implemented. And despite the worsening security context in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region, progress has been made thanks to the programme outreach to children through health facilities. Birth registration services are offered through health services that have a natural contact with most newborn babies. In Arbinda, a commune in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, birth registration rates increased from 66 per cent in 2016 to 87 per cent in September 2018.

“Stagnant registration rates in many countries leave millions of children without legal identity and the most vulnerable children are disproportionately affected,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “The EU-UNICEF partnership has allowed us to develop cost-effective service models that use health and immunization platforms as an entry point to register children soon after birth. Through small changes at the local level, we are strengthening the national systems so that each child is counted.”

In Zambia, the EU-UNICEF programme saw birth registration coverage almost double in the focus districts, from 68,000 in 2017 to 134,500 in 2019. Zambia’s success is a result of taking birth registration services closer to communities through health facilities, as well as changes in the birth registration laws which now allows for birth certificates to be issued and printed at the sub-national levels. Results have also been achieved in Uganda with an almost 300 per cent increase of parents of under 1-year-olds notifying the birth of their children in May, June, July and August this year in eight learning districts, compared to all of 2018.

“Combined, these results are hugely impressive and will have a life-changing impact on these children as they grow – supporting their access to education, healthcare services, a national identity and a range of protection rights,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the challenge of Governments and partners across the continent is to scale up these proven solutions.”

As the EU-UNICEF programme continues, UNICEF said that Government interest and commitment to birth registration in Africa is rapidly gaining ground. Many countries are assessing current systems, developing strategic action plans and allocating additional resources. This is timely, as Governments seek to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target – providing legal identity for all, including birth registration by 2030, by registering tens of millions more children across the continent.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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