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Kenya Pushes to Have More Children Registered at Birth - 2003-06-17

Kenyans commemorated the Day of the African Child by making a plea to their government to make sure all children are registered at birth.

Government statistics show that more than half of all Kenyan children are unregistered, that is, their names are not entered in government records, and they are not issued birth certificates.

Last year, out of an estimated one-point-four-million births, only about 480,000 of them were registered, according to the government's civil registration department.

That means only 38-percent of all births last year were officially recorded.

Denise Shepherd-Johnson is communications officer at UNICEF-Kenya. She says the failure to register children at birth is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"We hope that all rights for children in Kenya will be realized, starting with this very important right to have a name and a nationality," he said.

Unregistered children are in for many problems later on. Without a birth certificate, they are often denied access to health care and education.

But Tabitha Githonga, deputy senior civil registrar at Kenya's civil registration department, says some cultural beliefs in Kenya discourage the counting of children, which prevents parents from registering their children at birth.

"They do not want to expose their children to strangers," he said. "They might think, when you are registering their children, you are counting their children, and they might actually die. That is the problem we have been encountering."

Non-registration is only one of the problems facing the children of Kenya. Ms. Shepherd-Johnson of UNICEF says they also are vulnerable to many diseases that in other parts of the world are easily preventable. In addition, they are at great risk of being orphaned by AIDS.