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Buying peace through child registration

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HAPPY—Rashi with her son

By Naomi Kalemba, contributor:

When Veronica Godfrey gave birth to her son at Wimbe Health Centre in January 2020, she was told to come later to collect her daughter’s birth certificate.

Having learnt the importance of a birth certificate through radio, every time she went to Wimbe Health Center for the routine under-five clinic with her baby, she would check if the birth certificate had arrived. Sadly, it arrived the following year, 2021 in October.

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Kasungu District Principal Registration Officer Veronica Musa explains that this was a common occurrence throughout Malawi. Many mothers made several trips to health centres to collect their children’s birth certificates but did not find them. A lot of these mothers ended up giving up. As a result, birth certificates pilled up in health centres.

Later in 2022, Kasungu District Registration Office (DRO), with support from Unicef printed and distributed a backlog of birth certificates from births that had taken place months or years before.

“When the birth certificates were distributed to health centres, the majority were not collected because mothers had either forgotten about them or were too busy to travel long distances to go and collect the certificates,” explains Musa.

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This necessitated the need to deliver these birth certificates closer to the mothers and chiefs were identified as the closest point, where the birth certificates would be delivered under an arrangement called community birth registration.

Under this new arrangement, when a mother gives birth and registers her newborn’s details at the health centre, she waits for her child’s birth certificate to be delivered to her through her village head. This way, the birth certificates are bought closer to the mothers.

Estere Rashi gave birth at Wimbe health centre in 2022. When her baby was barely three months old, her birth certificate was delivered to her village chief.

“I collected my child’s birth certificate from our chief, Traditional Authority Wimbe. I didn’t spend a lot of time nor money to fetch this important document,” says Estere with a smile.

All the women who gave birth around the time that I did have received their children’s birth certificates.

“These documents are important. They are a reflection of the times we are living in where you cannot register for anything or participate in important events if you do not have an identification document. I am very happy that my child has an identification document just like other children in town. She is a full citizen whose name appears in the government register,” Estere explains.

Traditional Authority (TA) Wimbe says every time she goes to Kasungu Boma, she passes by the District Registration Office to collect birth certificates. Before she distributes them, she registers all the new births in the village register and then sends out messages for families to come and collect the certificates.

“I advise the families to keep these documents safely because they will need them when the children get older and want to register for their national identity cards. Therefore, you will see that a lot of mothers have their children’s birth certificates nicely wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from fading and from water,” add TA Wimbe.

TA Wimbe says the process for children who are born at home is the same. Once the chief is notified of a home birth, the chief registers the birth in the NR8 form. The form is then submitted to the National Registration Bureau (NRB) who issues the birth certificates. Once the certificates are ready, the parents collect them from their village head.

Since April 2022, the NRB has been distributing birth certificates through village heads with support from the Swiss Unicef National Committee. Unicef Malawi’s Child Protection Specialist Ambonishe Mwalwimba says that it is not enough to just ensure that every child is registered and has a legal identity and nationality as enshrined in our laws and several international human rights instruments and conventions and treaties, but that they should have the birth registration document at hand and use it when necessary.

“Parents have understood the need for birth certificates. But due to financial costs associated with travelling long distances to health centres to collect birth certificates, a lot of parents end up abandoning the certificates at the health centres where they gave birth. This new arrangement is addressing this issue by bringing the birth certificates close to where the child lives,” says Musa. In this way, not only will children be registered so that they are counted as citizens, but they will also have the document that proves who they are,” she concludes.

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