African Union member states have endorsed proposals to accelerate action towards birth registration of all African children to realize the commitment to universal birth registration by 2030. A High Level meeting of African Ministers and Deputy Ministers responsible for Civil Registration; Registrar Generals; Regional Economic Communities; civil society organizations, UN Agencies and private sector entities working on Birth registration and Identity, adopted on the 19th of November 2020, a Declaration that reaffirms the position of Birth Registration as a driver for strengthening national Civil Registration and Vital Statistics and subsequently, an enablers for effective economic development planning.
Both Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, make great import on the need to ensure that every vital event of every citizen is registered and information collected, compiled, produced and disseminated in a regular and continuous manner to guide policy and planning, to inform decisions and enable all stakeholders to track progress and make the necessary adjustments to ensure transparency and mutual accountability in all development related matters. To realize this, the need for legal identity for all, including the registration of all children at birth, has in recent years been at the center stage of strategies to mobilize more actions, political will and apportioning adequate technical and financial resources towards Civil Registration and Vital Statistics.
Africa has the lowest rates of children registered in the world, with nearly 1 out of 2 under 5 children, that is 48 per cent or about 96 million children, living without legal identity. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation, impacting the civil registration service delivery which threatens to reverse the gains and progress made in recent years. The Declaration acknowledges that millions of African children do not enjoy their legal right to identity and suffer from the indignity of invisibility. It commits member States to sustain their commitment to birth registration for all children including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and those living in conflict zones through sufficient funding of birth registration services and ensuring the services are functional even in times of unprecedented disruption such as with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a call to accelerate policy and legal reforms at the national, regional and continental levels to ensure that barriers that hinder access to birth registration such as unaffordable costs, institutional inefficiencies and lack of awareness are conclusively addressed.
Convened as part of the “No Name Campaign: For every child legal identity, for every child access to justice”, the High Level Dialogue was a platform for member states to share best practices of countries that have reached the target of birth registration as well as review and map out strategies to address existing challenges. “Champion countries” such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia and Tanzania have succeeded in achieving major increases in birth registration by scaling up three key game changers: Digitization, decentralization, integration in health services, a demonstration of the benefits of linkages in the inter-operability between health and immunization platforms and civil registry. Other best practices can be seen in Namibia, for instance, where digitization is well advanced, birth registration is close to 80 per cent. Mozambique has equally achieved significant progress in digitizing registration services at decentralized levels. Countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Uganda and Namibia have almost doubled their new-born registration by making the two sectors of health platforms and civil registry inter-operable. In Senegal, between 2014 and 2017, routine registration of children increased by 44 per cent in the four regions where birth registration service points were established in health facilities while in Tanzania, decentralizing birth registration to the local authorities and local health facilities increased certification rates from 10 per cent in 2012 to more than 80 per cent in 2019, in 13 target districts.
These examples from countries demonstrated that, if budgets for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) are scaled up, there is symbiotic relation between adequate resources and the achievements, thus encouraging other countries to put all their efforts on the three concrete interventions that allow proven improvements. “The best practices have the power to bring quick results on increasing birth registration”, noted Stephen Kampyongo MP, Minister of Home Affairs of Zambia and Chair of the Conference of Ministers in charge of CRVS (COM5).
Similar sentiments were echoed by the African Union Commission. Commissioner for Economic Affairs Prof. Victor Harison noted that the low numbers of birth registration in Africa are as a result of the weak prioritization of civil registration in national plans and budgets; low accessibility of services particularly for vulnerable populations such as refugees; high birth registration fees which are not affordable for some parents; fines imposed due to late and delayed registration especially in most Francophone countries; rising population growth leading to backlogs of unregistered children; and lack of modernization of the civil registration system among other key issues.
With worrying projections that show the total number of unregistered children in Africa will continue to increase and exceed 110 million by 2030 if no immediate interventions are effected, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira Elfadil Mohammed observes that the ideals in Africa’s Agenda 2063 and in 2030 Agenda , and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, will not be achieved without securing, protecting, and promoting the rights of children as the drivers of Africa’s renaissance
“We have to register all children, anywhere, anytime.”
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa calls for change underscoring the need to go beyond business as usual and moving forward to integrate birth registration to health and immunization facilities, and engage innovative and digital solutions. “Let us gear our investment into sustainable systems for civil registration that, through decentralization, digitization and interoperability with other social services, reach all the corners of the continent, ensuring every child is counted. Counted, so they can count.”
UNICEF Goodwill ambassador Angélique Kidjo has since pledged her support for the The “No Name Campaign”, amplifying the advocacy for enhanced action towards the universal registration of children at birth and the urgency to reposition civil registration and vital statistics in Africa. “Today, you have the power to end the indignity of invisibility for your people by concretely committing to common steps towards universalization. You have the support of the international community and donors, but most importantly the political authority to act and national level with an emphatic continental endorsement from the African Union”, she stated addressing the High Level meeting. Watch her Pledge to support the campaign here.
The achievements contained in the Declaration and the roadmap will be presented at the 6th Conference of African Ministers in charge of CRVS in Mozambique in 2021 to evaluate the progress made in the next nine (9) months, based on a statistical analysis that was shared during the meeting.