European Union and UNICEF Program Increases Birth Records in Africa

The three-year European Union (EU) and UNICEF Partnership led to a doubling of birth registration coverage in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Uganda, and Zambia districts. The absence of a birth certificate makes it difficult for children to access fundamental rights such as education and health; inhibits the government’s ability to plan and budget; and leaves children at greater risk of violations, such as marriage and child labor. The program has resulted in catalytic changes in the system and increased birth registration, UNICEF said Thursday.

“Stagnant registration rates in many countries leave millions of children without legal identity and the most vulnerable children are disproportionately affected,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “The EU-UNICEF partnership has allowed us to develop cost-effective service models that use health and immunization platforms as an entry point to register children soon after birth. Through small changes at the local level, we are strengthening the national systems so that each child is counted.”

Mother and son in Zambia, Photo: UNICEF

The € 6 million investment targeted districts with challenges in accessing civil registry services. From 2017 to 2019, rates doubled in the two regions of Cameroon, Mokolo, and Betare, where the program was implemented.

“With investments from the European Union, more than 600 birth registration desks have been set-up in Zambian health facilities, which is an excellent mechanism for scaling-up birth registration as this is the place where babies are born and where mothers come with their young children,” said Robert De Raeve, European Union Chargé d’Affaires in Zambia. “We are very proud that the births of close to 450,000 children have been registered between 2015 and 2018.”

Despite the worsening security environment in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, progress has been made thanks to the program to disseminate records to children through health facilities where services are offered. In Arbinda, Burkina Faso’s Sahara region, birth registration rates increased from 66% in 2016 to 87% in September 2018.

In Zambia, the EU-UNICEF program saw birth registration coverage almost double in the focus districts, from 68,000 in 2017 to 134,500 in 2019. Zambia’s success is a result of bringing birth registration services closer to communities across health facilities, as well as changes to birth registration laws that now allow birth certificates to be issued and printed at subnational levels. Results were also achieved in Uganda, with an increase of nearly 300% of parents of children under one year of age notifying the birth of their children in May, June, July, and August this year in eight learning districts compared to all year 2018.

Sustainable development

“Combined, these results are hugely impressive and will have a life-changing impact on these children as they grow – supporting their access to education, healthcare services, a national identity and a range of protection rights,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the challenge of Governments and partners across the continent is to scale up these proven solutions.”

As the program continues, UNICEF has stated that the government’s interest and commitment to birth registration in Africa is rapidly gaining ground. Many countries are evaluating current systems, developing strategic action plans and allocating additional resources. Governments seek to achieve the goal of the Sustainable Development Goal – to provide everyone with a legal identity, including birth registration by 2030, by registering tens of millions more children across the continent.