The regional consultations organized by the African Union and UNICEF in June and July 2021 show that progress has been made despite COVID-19, but that drastic measures are needed to achieve the SDG goal of universal birth registration.
Dakar, 9th August 2021. Prior to the African day for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS), on the 10th of August 2021, the African Union Commission and UNICEF convened regional consultations in June and July to take stock of progress over the past year, identify potential for learning, and call for increased political will as the COVID-19 pandemic is still challenging registration of newborns. In these consultations, countries were invited to take specific measures to prevent and/or address backlog, by waiving fees and extending deadline for registration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over one in two African children is still deprived of a legal existence.
Worrying projections show that this number will exceed 100 million by 2030 in Africa if no immediate and radical measures are taken. Despite some statistics showing that the continent is making progress, that improvement only accounts for 52 per cent of children under-5 registered in Africa.
The “No Name Campaign: For Every Child a Legal Identity, For Every Child Access to Justice”, launched by the African Union Commission and UNICEF in June 2020 is a results-focused campaign which aims to transform national birth registration systems to achieve universal birth registration by 2030. It has adopted three mutually reinforcing strategies – interoperability, decentralization and digitization, with the objective of simplifying and unlocking bottlenecks to birth registration. The campaign is country-focused, data driven and draws on the collaborative capacities of partners.
During the consultations, examples from Cote d’Ivoire and Congo Brazzaville highlighted enabling factors towards universal coverage of birth registration:
– By linking birth registration with health and immunization services, Cote d’Ivoire has significantly expanded the coverage of birth registration services over the past years. They are currently established in 89 per cent of maternity hospitals and 98 per cent of vaccination centres.
– Congo Brazzaville has one of the highest birth registration rates in the region. Birth registration is integrated with hospital maternity wards. As a demonstration of the solid political commitment for universal birth registration, coupled with continuous investment, additional measures are taken on a regular basis to identify undocumented children and adults. More recently, the Government has reaffirmed this commitment by introducing in 2021 a new policy framework to reform and modernize civil registration system.
High institutional delivery rates facilitate newborn registration (ex. Cape Verde), but birth registration can also be coupled with community health services, in particular vaccination (ex. Guinea Bissau).
However, integration of registration units in health centers is not enough. Beneficiaries might still face challenges in completing the registration process at the maternity ward, due among others, to limited opening hours and short time spent at the hospital. Measures to address the challenges include making procedures more flexible, for example by allowing for mothers to register without fathers’ presence at the maternity ward, while recognition of fatherhood can be processed at a later stage (ex. Cabo Verde).
Making birth registration free of charge
Ensuring birth registration is totally free of charge is critical to reach universal coverage. This implies that no fees should be imposed for late registration. The effectiveness of removing fees for birth registration is demonstrated by countries like Cape Verde and Congo Brazzaville. Today, birth registration is free of charge in only 4 of 24 countries in West and Central Africa.
The overwhelming number of undocumented adults represents a challenge for the registration of newborns. Allowing parents who have not been registered to obtain their birth certificate without penalties is therefore critical.
As articulated by the Representative of the Government of Cape Verde, “Birth registration being compulsory, the Government acknowledges its responsibility to guarantee and enable its universality, which starts by ensuring it is free of charge to all citizens, regardless of age.”
As a conclusion, Ms. Leila Ben Ali, on behalf of the African Union Commission, emphasized “the critical importance of universal registration of births and its relevance for monitoring of progress towards SDGs and Agenda 2063, that can only be achieved once Governments ensure it is free of charge, allow interoperability with other services, to ultimately allow decentralized service delivery that reaches all newborn children.”