Cameroon begins campaign to issue 500k birth certificates to undocumented children
The pilot phase of a project is underway to issue 500,000 birth certificates to children who do not yet have the foundational identity document in Cameroon.
The project was launched recently in Batouri, a town in the East Region noted for low birth registration.
Decentralisation and Local Development Minister Georges Elanga Obam launched the project as the country joined the rest of the continent to celebrate the Africa Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Day earlier this month.
The special campaign, which kicked off with the symbolic issuance of 100 birth certificates to some children in the area, is taking place on the instructions of the President of the Republic, Pau Biya, Obam said.
Statistics from Cameroon’s National Civil Status Registration Office (BUNEC) show the rate of birth certificate issuance for children five years of age and below stands at 65 percent. Analysts say the figures need to be improved given the high birth rate in the country, and UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 targets 100 percent birth registration.
Obam used the launching ceremony to emphasise the importance of establishing birth certificates for children. He harped on the vitality of the document which is the basis for establishing all other legal documents, and for having access to basic services such as education.
“We are here to launch a special campaign to issue birth certificates. We received instructions from the President of the Republic to deliver 500,000 copies to those who do not have them. We have handed over the first copies of birth certificates to some children,” said Obam after launching the campaign.
Officials say the special drive will target underserved communities where access to civil status services is difficult.
Other targeted regions host a number of minority groups as well as remote communities where parents find it difficult registering their children at birth, or at least within the three-month time frame provided for by Cameroon’s civil registration laws. No deadline has been given for this phase of the project.
The hint for a special campaign to issue 500,000 birth certificates to Cameroonian children who do not yet have the important document was first dropped by Obam while speaking in parliament in April last year.
He was responding to a question from a senator on efforts that were being made by government to modernize the country’s civil status registration system and expedite the issuance of birth certificates.
“We are working on the legislation to govern the civil status system. By June , we should have put in place the said legislation. We are soon also going to launch a special operation, authorised by the President of the Republic, to establish 500,000 birth certificates to children and adults who do not have,” he said then.
The legislation is yet to be sent to parliament.
Laudable, but not benevolent gesture
Lucas Nji, a Cameroonian human rights activist who has carried out civil registration campaigns in the past, told Biometric Update that the move is a laudable one, but that it shouldn’t be seen as a gift.
“It is a wonderful move. It will enable so many children to have a birth certificate, which is a very important document,” says Nji.
“However, such a campaign should not be seen as a benevolent gesture. It is the responsibility of a government to ensure that its citizens have birth certificates. It is a universally declared right of a child. This is what brings out the identity of an individual. I often say that a child without a birth certificate is an alien on the surface of the earth.”
Nji also notes that the process for establishing a birth certificate in Cameroon is complicated, and calls on authorities to consider improving the process.
“One of our campaigns over the years has been for the process of issuing birth certificates to be digitalized as is the case with the process of issuing our biometric passports. This will facilitate the acquisition of this particular document because this has been a big problem for parents,” he states.
Advising parents to take advantage of the campaign and secure the vital documents for their children, Nji urges: “Unto a child is a right, unto a parent is a duty. Parents must take their responsibility, while government too must work to ensure that the process to issue this important document is improved upon.”
Some councils in Cameroon recently had funding support from the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family to issue free birth certificates to needy children.