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Civil registries are important – but how do you persuade the people?

ID4Africa workshop finds ways
Civil registries are important – but how do you persuade the people?

How do civil registries enroll more people? Should they twist people’s arms by making birth certificates compulsory? These were among the issues discussed in the second part of the workshop ‘Mission 100: Towards Achieving 100 percent Legal Identity by 2030’ which began at the ID4Africa Augmented General Meeting in Marrakesh earlier this month.

Participants have been deliberating on their discussion and reconvened for a LiveCast available on YouTube and will prepare a summary report to submit to the African Union meeting of CRVS ministers in October.

“As we speak today, we will end the day with 60,000 children unregistered [in Africa],” said Cornelius Williams, director of the Child Protection Programme Group, UNICEF, who had chaired the in-person part of the workshop in Marrakesh. Half of children are still unregistered at birth, despite 61 percent of deliveries taking place in institutions. “If we just registered children where they are born we’d be able to address that gap,” said Williams.

He acknowledged that Africa’s 7 percent growth rate makes universal registration tougher: “If we have to make the goal, the progress has to be increased by more than 20 times” but in striving for Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 for a legal identity for all by 2030, Africa’s loss would be a global loss.

Workshop rapporteur, Bhaskar Mishra, also of UNICEF, noted that 20 African nations are in fact on track for universal registration, including Mali, Sierra Leone and Niger. Globally, half of all unregistered births happen in just five countries, of which three are in Africa: Nigeria, Ethiopia and the DRC.

Williams identified four areas of barriers: discriminatory laws and practices such as unmarried mothers being unable to register their babies, with laws dating back to colonial eras; costs involved for parents; a lack of twinning with the health sector and a lack of demand. A lack of demand linked to poor communications by government was a view shared across the group.

Possible improvements: calculators, rebrands, legal reform

Mishra said that a UN group is working on a document to be ready by the end of the year which will guide countries in calculating the cost of inaction

Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi, director general of Sierra Leone’s National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) had suggested that CRVS be rebranded CRID to raise the status of the service.

Oliver Chinganya, director of the African Centre for Statistics of UNECA questioned the overt linking of CRVS and ID: “What do we really mean? Are we looking for an ID or are we looking for a universal, holistic approach for registering everyone? Because if the focus becomes an ID, that becomes problematic because when you’re talking about an uncle who’s sitting some 200km away, he has to make a choice with the $2 that he has either to go and register or buy food, just for an ID.”

The benefits of ID, even when someone has to travel 200km, have to be made very clear.

Alick Mvula, deputy registrar general of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Zambia, explained how the country’s Ministry of Health signed an MoU with his ministry, which, combined with legal reform, empowered health facilities to register births. The 4 previous forms were reduced to just one.

Namibia is also bringing together all civil registry laws into one act of parliament and is pushing for electronic notification of birth registration, explained Tulimeke Munyika, director of the National Population Register, Identification and Production at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security. All births are registered, but do not necessarily confer citizenship. Namibia is working on a way to regularize the status of stateless persons and their children.

Sierra Leone’s Massaquoi explained how having all government departments involved in birth registration brought together to work on legal reform helps as it enhances ownership and cooperation. He also noted a slight concern with making birth certification free: “when you give something for free, of course, people tend to abuse it or not take it seriously.”

UNECA’s Chinganya promoted the idea of increasing the status of civil registries within a government, a point which arose in Marrakesh. In Kenya and Sierra Leone, the department has been higher status which gives it better access to higher levels of authority.

Kenya has reached 86.2 percent registration (2021) via a number of approaches, explained Janet Mucheru, registrar general. Mother and child health (MCH) approaches where a birth certificate can be issued when a child is taken for vaccination helped, as did ensuring all Huduma Namba ID centers have a civil registry office.

Birth certificates for school?

Kenya increased supply of birth certificates by upping staffing and moving to day and night shifts during COVID-19 so as not to reduce service. The country also increased demand. It made birth certificates necessary for ID and passport applications and also “by ensuring that government announced that no child was to be admitted in school without a birth certificate – actually this created a really high demand,” said Mucheru.

After a period of being overwhelmed by demand after this, the backlog was cleared and now most children in school have a birth certificate.

Annina Wersun of OpenCRVS, a free, open-source digital CRVS system, warned against creating barriers to force people into registration, but rather removing other barriers such as requiring parents to provide their own ID to register their child when they do not have ID.

Namibia and Zambia’s delegates also prefer a different approach with schools. In both countries there is no requirement to have certificate to attend school. In fact, schools notify upwards how many children do not have certificates and the civil registry uses the data to arrange mobile registration units to target the schools. Birth certificates should not be required for accessing services such as health, said Namibia’s Munyika, calling such provision a human right.

Dr. Joseph Atick, ID4Africa executive chairman, called on the workshop participants to harmonize their thoughts and then speak with one voice and make sure alarm bells are heard when they deliver their report to the African Union conference from 24 October 2022 in Addis Ababa.

Dr. Atick spoke of how policies where ID is needed to register SIM cards to keep them active have created huge demand for ID in African nations.

“We’re not going to become authoritarian and rigid, but at the same time the populations need to learn that these things have utility for planning, have utility for rights, have utility for management of resources in the country. India has done a beautiful job with the way they’ve taken the balance – with Aadhaar, with the Supreme Court – the way they took that.”

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