Birth reg­is­tra­tion boost

New, free ini­tia­tive which makes use of cell­phones helps get chil­dren in Tan­za­nia onto of­fi­cial records

African Independent - - HEALTH - KIZ­ITO MAKOYE

AT Lun­yanywi vil­lage in Tan­za­nia’s south­ern high­lands, lo­cal res­i­dents gather to wel­come a new mem­ber of their com­mu­nity.

An­to­nia Kisena and her hus­band Moses are cel­e­brat­ing the birth of a baby boy they have named Arnold with drum­ming, food and a spe­cially pre­pared lo­cal brew.

“My hus­band al­ways wished for a baby boy – thank God it hap­pened just like that,” said Kisena, 38.

But un­like her three older chil­dren, who do not have birth cer­tifi­cates, Arnold got his soon af­ter he was born.

“It was a very quick process. Ev­ery­thing was cap­tured by a mo­bile phone and the doc­u­ment was is­sued in­stantly,” she said.

Thanks to mBirth, a new birth reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem created by the Reg­is­tra­tion In­sol­vency and Trus­tee­ship Agency (Rita), a govern­ment agency tasked to regis­ter births and deaths, and cell­phone op­er­a­tor Tigo, Arnold is one of a grow­ing num­ber of Tan­za­nian ba­bies to have their birth of­fi­cially reg­is­tered.

Tan­za­nia has one of the low­est rates of birth reg­is­tra­tion in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, with only 16 per­cent of chil­dren un­der the age of 5 reg­is­tered with civil au­thor­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the 2010 Tan­za­nia De­mo­graphic and Health Sur­vey, the most re­cent records avail­able.

Child’s rights cam­paign­ers say en­sur­ing ev­ery child’s birth is reg­is­tered is cru­cial to pro­tect­ing their ba­sic rights and ac­cess to health care, ed­u­ca­tion and jus­tice. It also helps to pro­tect chil­dren from early mar­riage, child labour, traf­fick­ing and re­cruit­ment into the armed forces, cam­paign­ers say.

Emmy Hud­son, Rita’s act­ing head, said the mBirth sys­tem marks a sig­nif­i­cant shift in ac­cel­er­at­ing birth reg­is­tra­tion in Tan­za­nia.

“We have em­barked on this ini­tia­tive to speed up birth reg­is­tra­tion, es­pe­cially of new­born ba­bies, to en­sure that each baby is cap­tured and reg­is­tered clos­est to home,” she said in Dar es Salaam.

More than 200 000 chil­dren un­der 5 have been reg­is­tered and is­sued with birth cer­tifi­cates in Njombe and Iringa re­gions in Tan­za­nia’s south­ern high­lands since Septem­ber, Hud­son said.

mBirth al­lows health work­ers to send the baby’s name, sex, date of birth and fam­ily de­tails by phone to a cen­tral data­base and a birth cer­tifi­cate is is­sued the same day.

The sys­tem, which works on the most ba­sic phone and doesn’t re­quire an in­ter­net con­nec­tion, reg­is­ters chil­dren un­der 5 for free.

“I couldn’t be­lieve my eyes when a nurse handed over a birth cer­tifi­cate for my son,” Kisena said.

Be­fore the mBirth ini­tia­tive was rolled out in Njombe and Iringa, only about 10 per­cent of un­der-fives had birth cer­tifi­cates in each re­gion, ac­cord­ing to Hud­son.

But the num­bers had since leapt to more than 90 per­cent.

Most par­ents in ru­ral Tan­za­nia found it hard to regis­ter their chil­dren, due to high costs, long dis­tances to reg­istry of­fices and a lack of aware­ness of the ben­e­fits.

Pre­vi­ously par­ents had to pay 3 500 Tan­za­nian shillings ($1.60) if they re­quested a cer­tifi­cate within 90 days of a child’s birth, or 4 000 shillings af­ter that and travel costs.

El­iz­a­beth Luh­wago, a mother in Kidugala vil­lage, who failed to nav­i­gate bu­reau­cratic hur­dles to regis­ter her 6-year-old twins, is bank­ing on mBirth to get her daugh­ters’ doc­u­ments.

“I want to get my chil­dren to school so I need their birth cer­tifi­cates,” she said. “And with this doc­u­ment my chil­dren can get ac­cess to bet­ter health ser­vices now the govern­ment wants to in­tro­duce health in­sur­ance to ev­ery­one.” – Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion

PIC­TURE: AFP

IN­VIS­I­BLE: Tan­za­nia has one of the low­est rates of birth reg­is­tra­tion in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

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