As the population continues to rise, it is increasingly concerning that many children are for various reasons living without national registration documents. According to United Nations (UN), Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CVRS) as well as Identity Management the numbers are quickly rising. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative for Civil Registrations Julianna Lindsey says birth registration in particular is a fundamental human right of every child as it is the first way that the child is recognised legally in any country.
In Botswana it is enshrined in the Children’s Act as well as Births and Deaths Registration Act. “These Acts specifically lay out how registration should be carried out. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child article 7 also lays out the rights of the child to birth registration and in Botswana this should happen within 30 days of birth after which failure to register a child is seen as a criminal offence,” said Lindsey.
Children need their birth certificates to go to school (and participate in sports and register for exams), get their passports, to get their national identity card (Omang) when they are of age and eventually to get married. Yet Lindsey says there are still children in Botswana who reach secondary school without a birth certificate especially in rural communities.
“Most of these children are doing so well in school yet without these important documents they will never be able to sit for any final exam. This affects the lives of many children very negatively. The 2007 Botswana health survey report shows that the overall birth registration at that time was only 72 percent for under-five-year-olds,” she pointed out.
She said the 2014 vital statistics report from Statistics Botswana shows that 83 percent of births had been registered at the time. “This showed significant progress. The statistics are pretty much on par with neighboring South Africa and Namibia but there are countries such as Egypt and Brazil that have achieved 95 percent and more registration which is the target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) around registration,” she continued.
Lindsey said in late 2015 all the countries in the world including Botswana agreed on the SDGs and the target related to registration which is 95 percent birth registration by 2030. “It is the role of government and the relevant stakeholders to ensure that Botswana achieves this important goal,” she advised.
Lindsey said not coincidentally, sometimes the registration numbers of children at different stages of life for different types of situations are different. “Sometimes the parents are less educated or they live in more rural areas. The family health survey from 2007 showed that in urban areas overall birth registration is 85 percent while it was 67 percent in rural areas which are a significant difference. Or similarly those with parents with secondary education had about 78 percent of their births registered, only 54 percent of those born to parents who had only finished primary school were registered,” she revealed. She said one of the important principles of the SDG is that no one should be left behind which means a lot has to be done to reach children in rural communities and those with less educated parents.
Lindsey said Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs and UNICEF continue to demonstrate that as a team they can achieve the SDG. “It is possible to reach the children who are left behind. In 2015 the two entities worked together to register and provide birth certificates to over 5 000 children in just one month in the Okavango Sub Region. In 2016 there was a mop-up campaign that successfully registered 2 600 children in Gantsi South, Kweneng West and Gweta East. Another 4 000 children who had previously been registered were issued birth certificates in that period,” Lindsey said. She said these initiatives benefited from a combination of civil society outreach, because there were NGOs which were very instrumental in coming up with ways of identifying the children who didn’t have birth certificates through the government systems and UNICEF support.
Going forward says Lindsey, whether for birth, death, or marriage certificates, Botswana has the potential to tap into new technology and public or private partnerships to accelerate registration in order to achieve the SDG of 95 percent.
“In Tanzania for instance, UNICEF partnered with a mobile phone company and the responsible ministry in the country to registered more than 800 000 children in a five-year period,” she said. Lindsey guarantees that UNICEF in particular and the UN in general look forward to continuing to collaborate with Botswana government, civil society and private sector to advance registration in the republic.