NAIROBI — The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF
, says that worldwide, about 51,000,000 children per year are not registered at birth. A birth certificate provides state recognition of that child's existence. Without it, the child is often denied education and health benefits, as well as basic human rights. In Kenya, PLAN International
and the World Health Organization
are working with the government to register children by way of mobile phone technology.
PLAN International says only about half of children born in Kenya have birth certificates. Without this document, children cannot register for national exams, which are mandatory for admittance to secondary school and university. And if orphaned, they can be denied rightful property inheritance.
Salim Mvurya is the Program Unit Manager for PLAN Kenya, in the coastal district of Kwale. He says birth registration is critical for children. “It is important to have birth certificates for child protection reasons, education reasons, inheritance reasons, and also those who travel abroad, you know, for different reasons, they also have to have [a] birth certificate for them to get a passport,” he said.
But registering for a birth certificate is not so simple, especially in the more remote areas of the country.
Within the first six months of a child’s birth, a community worker and assistant chief start the paper-based process for registering a child. The certificate, costing about 60 cents, must then be retrieved from the district civil registrar’s office.
If the child is registered after six months of birth, the process becomes more tedious. The parent must travel to see the assistant chief, the area chief, the district officer, the district commissioner, and finally, the district civil registrar. At each one of these stops, forms must be filled out. The cost of this late registration certificate is about $1.80.
But it is the cost of transport and time away from work that is the real problem. Benedetta Kamene is a volunteer children’s officer for the community-based organization Kimadzo, in Kwale. She says that the cost of round-trip transport from her office to the district registrar, 100 kilometers away, is about $11.90 -- a steep sum for most residents of this area.
“Then you’ll have to go there, and pay for that certificate, then come back. So you’ll find that, they are not all that expensive, but the transport makes them sound quite expensive,” Kamene stated.
To help alleviate these problems, PLAN International and the World Health Organization developed pilot programs in Kwale and Naivasha to use mobile phone technology to register babies.
After the birth, community workers and assistant chiefs work together to collect information on their mobile phones, and send it to the appropriate officials.
Ali Mwatsahu is a community worker with Kimadzo. He says that the mobile phone registration process made his job much easier. “With this mobile thing, the only thing that you do, after you have got all that information, you just send it directly to Kwale, you don’t have to travel, and you can send as many forms as possible within a short time," Mwatsahu added. "So when the certificates are ready there, they contact us, we go and pick the certificates. The parents do not have to travel to and fro, all the time, looking for something which is not ready.”
Daniel Muga is a Chief Registrar at the Kenya Department of Civil Registration
. He says the Kenyan government is interested in utilizing the strong mobile capabilities within the country to streamline this process.
“Mobile use is widespread all the way to the remote parts of the country. In essence, every other person owns a mobile phone, is able to use a mobile phone to run very basic transactions, to communicate. So that becomes a leverage for any process that involves the community,” Muga said.
Mobile civil registration
Muga says he is hopeful that mobile civil registration will soon become fully-implemented throughout the country, which can then be incorporated into the civil registration system. He admits that one hold-up has been the fact that although a computerized civil registration system is now in place, the records are not digitized. He says this is about to change.
“In other words, within a period, of say, nine months, we expect that all our records which number in the range of 35 million records, that all these records will actually be converted," Muga said. "And will be stored in a digitized format.”
PLAN issued between 400 and 500 birth certificates last year in Kwale through the mobile phone project. The WHO project in Naivasha is still in its beginning stages.