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Cameroon Gives Birth Certificates to Children Deprived of Education

Children play on the playground of the public primary school in Cameroon, Jan. 27, 2022.
Children play on the playground of the public primary school in Cameroon, Jan. 27, 2022.

Ahead of International Day of the African Child on June 16, rights groups and officials in Cameroon are distributing birth certificates to 30,000 of several million children denied education for lack of the document. A majority of the children without birth registration are from western regions and Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria where separatist and Boko Haram conflicts have displaced several million people.

The Cameroon government says thousands of children have been visiting district councils all over the country this week to collect their birth certificates.

Among the children expecting the Youande City Council to establish their birth certificates is 17-year-old Mustapha Issa.

Mustapha said he is one of the several thousand children denied an education for lack of a birth certificate.

Mustapha said he went to the Yaounde City Council on Thursday and pleaded with the mayor to help him, alongside other children who have not received an education because they lack birth certificates. He said the mothers of some of the children yearning for an education gave birth to their children at home and failed to register their births.

Officials of the Yaounde City Council say they received at least a dozen humanitarian groups asking for birth certificates to be issued for children so they can obtain an education, health care and other government services.

The Ministry of Decentralization and Local Development is supervising the establishment and distribution of birth certificates to needy children. The document is free for babies younger than 90 days old. But older children have to spend about $20 to have birth certificates in a long process that involves officials of Cameroon’s Justice Ministry.

Cameroon's Ministry of Secondary Education said it is compulsory for children to present their birth certificates before continuing with their education after the primary level.

Mustapha said dropouts become street children, drug addicts and gangsters.

The Cameroon government said several thousand birth certificates were lost or destroyed in Cameroon’s separatist conflict that so far has displaced 750,000 people in English-speaking western regions, most of them women and children.

Tanjong Martin, mayor of the Tubah district in Cameroon’s English-speaking northwest region, said the number of applications for birth certificates is overwhelming.

"During this time of the anglophone crisis, schools were not functioning, councils were not running, and the children for these years had no birth certificates,” Martin said. “Now, we have about 3,000 applications, and as you know, new ones are coming up, so it is a big problem in areas where this crisis hit since 2016."

Cameroon also said tens of thousands of birth certificates were lost in attacks by Boko Haram militants that have displaced more than 3 million people in northern Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria.

George Elanga Obam, Cameroon's minister of Decentralization, said Cameroon is working in partnership with Nigeria for displaced children to have birth certificates.

"With Boko Haram, a lot of people came from Nigeria,” he said. “Most of their children do not have their birth certificates. The first thing we do as a state is education, talking to parents with all the means that we can use ... talking to the civil society. It is very important to be registered in civil status. We will reduce the amount of children not having birth certificates."

Cameroon said more 3.3 million children in the country of 26 million do not have required birth certificates. More than 2 million are of school-going age, the government said.