Thursday, December 5, 2013
- The Zambian government will launch the new birth registration certificate as the hallmark of its celebrations to commemorate the Day of the African Child on Jun.16.
Out of 1.7 million children under five in Zambia, only 200,000 have birth certificates, according to the government’s Central Statistics Office.
Apart from being the first legal acknowledgment of a child’s existence, the registration of births is fundamental to the realisation of a number of rights and practical needs, says the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which is involved in the campaign.
UNICEF says a functioning system of birth and civil registration ensures that the country has an up to date and reliable data base for planning and providing social services.
Most African countries have a legal provision for registering births of children within a prescribed period. However, these laws are often not comprehensive enough and are not enforced, or in some cases, do not function.
In Zambia, though birth registration is compulsory, the system has fallen into disuse.
There is bureaucratic lethargy and a lack of oversight. Another contributing factor is a lack of resources. Parents travel long distances to the registration centres which are situated far from the villages.
Parents are also suspicious and do not see the benefits of their own citizenship, let alone what the benefits that birth registration would confer on their own children, says UNICEF.
Beauty Ngande, an officer at the main registration centre in Lusaka, says getting parents to register will be hard. Many Zambians only worry about their birth certificates when they are getting passports or trying to get national registration cards after attaining the age of 16.
"People find dealing with official processes laborious, time consuming and an urban thing. Because they are illiterate they are not motivated to sign documents or even acquire documents they perceive not beneficial to them," says Ngande.
She admits that dealing with government requires patience because of red tape. The system is also prone to abuse because there are no checks and the data is recorded manually.
Ngande fears that illegal immigrants and refugees might take advantage of the exercise to obtain Zambian birth registration for their children. Just as they do when there is national registration card renewal before every general election.
"People in rural areas do not give birth in medical centres where official records are kept. They do not have any official documents to prove who they are, anyone can register their child. How will we know which are genuine Zambians, or that a child was born in Zambia?" she says.
Susan Jere, from the Young Women’s Christian Association in Lusaka, says "it will be an uphill battle" to persuade parent to register their children.
But UNICEF head of child protection, Gabriel Fernandez is upbeat. He says the registration drive will be decentralised to the provincial level to get rid of bureaucracy.
UNICEF officials, working with the government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, have set themselves a target to register one million children by next June. Fernandez says UNICEF will support campaigns and provide support to increase the number of children with birth registration.
He says the new registration form, which is more detailed and has the Victoria Falls as the watermark, will be difficult to forge. UNICEF will roll out the first 500,000 forms on Monday.
Zambia, with a population of 11 million, enjoys a population growth rate of 2 percent per annum. However, more than 80 percent of Zambians live below the poverty line of two U.S. dollar per month, according to official figures.