A name and nationality is every child’s right, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties. Yet the births of nearly one-fourth of children under the age of five worldwide have never been recorded. This lack of formal recognition by the State usually means that a child is unable to obtain a birth certificate. As a result, he or she may be denied healthcare or education. Later in life, the lack of official identification documents can mean that a child may enter into marriage or the labour market, or be conscripted into the armed forces, before the legal age. Registering children at birth is the first step in securing their recognition before the law, safeguarding their rights, and ensuring that any violation of these rights does not go unnoticed.
Most countries have mechanisms in place for registering births. However, coverage, the type of information obtained and the use of resulting data can differ, based on a country’s infrastructure, administrative capacity, availability of funds, access to the population and technology for data management. Rates of registration vary substantially among countries, due to these and other factors.
Large differences can be found in the coverage of birth registration among regions. Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) has the highest level of birth registration, with 98 percent of children under 5 registered. This is followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, at 92 percent, and the Middle East and North Africa, at 87 per cent.
The lowest levels of birth registration are found in sub-Saharan Africa (41 per cent). In Eastern and Southern Africa, only 36 percent of children are registered by their fifth birthday, while the rate in West and Central Africa is slightly higher, at 45 percent.
Percentage of children under age five whose births are registered by region.
Many UNICEF country offices are exploring the use of mobile communications technologies, including cell phones, to increase birth registration coverage. As a result, access to reliable data in real time is being used for planning and decision-making.
Mobile and digital technology can be used to obtain timely, accurate and permanent records.
In Uganda, UNICEF and a private sector partner, Uganda Telecom, are piloting a mobile and web-based technology to digitise birth records, making the birth registration process faster, more accessible and more reliable.
Cambodia case study
According to the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) 2010, just over 62 percent of children under five are registered in Cambodia, which is lower than the 2005 figure of 65 per cent. CDHS 2010 also shows a huge gap in birth registration between urban and rural, and between the rich and the poor. 60 percent of children live in rural area registered their birth comparing to 74 percent of children living in urban. There is gap between the rich and the poor as well with only 48 percent of the poorest children registered as opposed to 78 percent of the richest as shown in the graph.
Since 2011 MOI, with UNICEF support, has been implementing a pilot initiative in 32 communes of three districts in Kampong Speu, Prey Veng, and Svay Rieng Provinces to model the most effective ways to address the issues that cause low levels of birth registration. The pilot outcomes will also guide key stakeholders for policy and programme adaptation.
There are many reason for this situation:
- Lower value of and demand for birth certificates
- The form/design of the birth certificate is not durable especially for rural families, who are at higher risk of damage and loss.
- Communes and districts often experience a shortage of birth certificate supplies causing inconsistency and delays in providing birth registration services.
- Parents find the process of birth registration of newborn children – especially late registration – complicated and rigid.
- The paper-based, manual monitoring and reporting system leads to poor data management, low information quality and irregular or late information flow.
One of the recommended action is to implement a monthly routine outreach and real-time reporting of birth registration through short-messaging services (SMS).
To help solve this issue, UNICEF Cambodia together with General Department of Identification (GDI) set up a pilot IVR platform using a combination of RapidPro and the cloud communication channels Twilio and Nexmo. This solution would, for the first time, help ensure communes would never be out of stock and babies could be registered as soon as possible – a vital protection method for children.
Each month commune clerks report the number of forms and/or books in stock either by responding to the automated monthly calls initiated by RapidPro or by calling the system. The data is then analysed by RapidPro. If the numbers of forms or books in stock are below a certain threshold, RapidPro will automatically notify the district level by SMS and the province level and GDI by email. The district officers in charge of re-supplying forms and books receive SMS notifications on communes that need restocking, helping to ensure communes will be equipped to register all children.
RapidPro is being used all over the world in a variety of ways to assist children and families, supported by UNICEF’s Global Innovation Centre (GIC). The GIC acts as a centre of excellence that is powered by a growing global network of UNICEF offices, specialists and allies dedicated to using technology that can have a large-scale impact on the lives of children.
Photo Credit: Margherita Dametti for COOPI