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Registering birth days in Tanzania

In Tanzania, improving access to health care for mothers includes providing bed nets to prevent malaria, anti-malaria drugs, blood builders and health education. Children younger than five benefit from products to improve their nutrition.

As his mother fills out the paperwork to register the births of her children, a young boy peeks over the table’s edge with curiosity. Thanks to Canada’s support, these two Tanzanian children will receive birth certificates, which will prove their ages and protect their fundamental rights.

A birth marks the beginning of a new life. Registering this event with a country’s national government records the name of each child and the date of their birth, providing formal recognition of their existence. A birth certificate is the document that provides proof that a child exists.

In December 2013, UNICEF reported that, worldwide, the births of as many as 230 million children were not officially recorded. Most of these unregistered children live in developing countries, including Tanzania, the country with the second-highest rate of unregistered children in East and Central Africa.

More than 90 percent of children under five living on mainland Tanzania did not have birth certificates as of April 2012. Without a birth certificate, these children could be denied basic rights and protection. In terms of everyday life in Tanzania, without proof of their birth, a child might not have access to education, health care or important legal rights. These children are also at greater risk of abuse, childhood marriage, working at a very young age, or being prosecuted as an adult if accused of a crime. In the longer term, they are not allowed to vote, nor do they qualify to register for a job or any kind of social assistance.

In Tanzania, even though parents are legally required to register their children at birth, the reality is quite different. The cost of a long journey to register a child, and then 90 days later to pick up the birth certificate, made this a difficult process for many families. In fact, a 2010 national survey indicated that only 4.4 percent of poor families registered their children (compared to 56 percent of families with higher incomes) and only 10 percent of rural families (compared to 44 percent of urban families).

In July 2013, funded by the Government of Canada and supported by the UNICEF Tanzania country office, Voluntary Services Overseas, TIGO, and the Tanzania Registration, Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (RITA), launched the first mass birth registration campaign. In the first two months of the project, more than 100,000 children were registered and given birth certificates. This initial success helped shape the longer-term goal of achieving a birth registration rate of more than 50 percent of children under five by 2015, reaching 850,000 children in five of Tanzania’s priority regions: Mbeya, Mwanza, Geita, Shinyanga, and Simiyu. Achieving this goal by 2015 will result in one million Tanzanian children having birth certificates.

The project introduced a simplified process: instead of relying on one registrar in each district, assistant registrars were trained at ward and village level in local government offices and in hospitals and health clinics, which allowed children to be registered at birth or during vaccination visits. Once parents registered their children, the birth certificate was given to them at the same time. There were no longer any fees to obtain a birth certificate for children under five.

Tuli Mwankenja, a mother of two whose children obtained birth certificates in the Mbeya region, spoke of what this opportunity meant to her family: "I never imagined that one day my two kids would possess birth certificates. This is a miracle to me. I am very happy because now my two kids will be able to register for primary education. Thanks to all those who initiated this move."

The process also benefited the Tanzanian government. Using newly available technology, uploading the collected data to a centralized system recorded all birth registrations. The government uses the information to determine the size, gender, and age of its child population. With this assessment, Tanzanian officials can identify more easily the essential services needed for children and can monitor progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. Canada remains committed to improving the lives of mothers and children in Tanzania. Canada shares the goal with the Government of Tanzania that every birth of in the country is registered and each child is the proud holder of a birth certificate.

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