All children have the right to a legally registered name, officially recognised by the government. Children have the right to a nationality (to belong to a country). Children also have the right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their parents,” according to Article 7 of the UN convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet in the impoverished and marginalised border state of Kassala, this is not always self-evident. Until 2006, only 23 per cent of newborn babies there were registered and received birth certificates – shutting out the majority of newborns to attaining citizenship rights later.
Rawda Jaaly, Head of the Childhood Department at the National Council for Child Welfare (NCCW) in Kassala, says Kassala’s population lacks awareness about the importance of registering births, especially in the countryside and remote areas. Due to poverty, many new parents don’t get birth certificates to avoid the fees that accompany all government paperwork.
In response to this problem, NCCW, in cooperation with children’s organisations and other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Health, Civil Affairs Administration, the judiciary and other local authorities, launched ‘Child Rights and Birth Registration in Kassala’ in 2005. The initiative aimed to raise awareness and increase birth registration in Kassala, open new birth registration centres in remote areas and built the capacity of the registration staff, including midwives. Funding came from the state government and organisations such as UNICEF, Plan International, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), UNHCR and others.
A change in thinking
After six years, registration rates rose to 57 per cent in 2012 based on Ministry of Health statistics: in 2005, of 58,776 children, 13,119 children were registered (22.3 per cent) but in 2012, of 70,083 children, 40,154 were registered (57.2 per cent).
Jaaly says that they even went out to the countryside and carried out many awareness-raising activities including workshops, media campaigns, trainings for midwives and health and statistics staff. They also helped with giving birth certificates through the judiciary after getting witnesses for children aged under 15 years, based on the law. Jaaly says the project has contributed to drafting new laws to facilitate issuing birth certificates directly from the Civil Affairs Department without the need of a court decision.
Dr. Imane Mohamed Abdallah, Head of the MOH Statistics Department says the department suffers from a lack of birth registration requirements including record keeping, accessories and rained staff, especially after the recent federal government decision, which lowered the registration period from three months to only one month and another decision assigning the state with the record printing task.
Abdallah is concerned that such decisions might affect the number of birth registrations. She adds that they have 30 registration centres in hospitals and health facilities in Kassala and other states. Midwives and statistics staff run the registration process and deliver the records to the Statistics Department on a daily basis. The latter submit them to the Civil Affairs Department after an agreed period of time (one year). She explains that the NCCW doubled the number of registration centres, which has improved overall performance.
She adds that the percentage witnessed a slight fall to 53 per cent in 2015 because some organisations (such as the World Bank-affiliated Central Health Fund, which worked in the state until last year) stopped the financial incentives they used to pay to midwives for their registration records at the end of each month. However, she adds that awareness of the importance of registering births has risen, something the NCCW believes is a decisive factor in solving the problem.
Mohamed Mustafa Shalal, Head of the Child Protection Network in Kassala says that great efforts were made by many organisations and UN agencies to improve the situation of Kassala’s children but the project funding stopped two years ago, a decision, he hopes, the donors will reconsider.