23 September 2011

Uganda: Is Your Birth Registered?

Beatrice Kabasinguzi, a shop attendant has three children who are all under the age of six. None of them has a birth certificate.

"I do not have birth certificates for them and I am not even sure of the process. If it involves money and running up and down, I have neither the cash nor the time to do so," she says. Although all her three children were born in clinics around Kampala, only two have the slip indicating details about the birth. The lack of birth certificates puts her two sons and a daughter among the 79 per cent of Ugandan children under five without birth certificates.

According to the Uganda Health Demographic survey 2006, only 21 in 100 children under five are registered. Put that against the 1.4 million infants born every year and you may well be looking at what could grow up to be a mostly undocumented generation.

This lack of documentation can prove to be a problem because the certificate is necessary if for example you would like to have a passport.

Take the Uganda Little League that missed their chance to participate in the Baseball World Series in the United States after being the first African team to qualify in 65 years. According to their coach Mr. George Mukhobe, their efforts to get a visa for all the adolescent team members were hampered by the lack of verifiable birth records.

"Most of the children are orphans and the relatives raising them can't really trace where they were born in order to secure a birth certificate. Some of the parents assume the process is long and tedious so they don't even bother," says the coach.

The plight of the baseball team paints a picture of the situation of birth registration in the country, where very few if any get their birth certificates below the age of five. Of the adults with birth certificates right now, a good number followed them up when they needed it, either to apply for a passport, as verification for government sponsorship in university or when looking for visa. For those who were born in hospital the process is easier since they have a slip of paper documenting the date, place, parents names and other important information required to fill out a birth certificate.

For others like 35-year-old Mukhobe, there is no documented evidence whatsoever to confirm where he was actually born. "I was born under a tree in Tororo and the issue of birth certificate never came up until I needed to travel recently," he says, adding that the only information he has is by word of mouth passed on from his grandmother and mother to him.

Why you need to have a certificate

In the wake of the Little League saga and "Nasser Road printed" birth certificates, the newly launched mobile vital registration system (mobile VRS) might be the miracle that the registration (both birth and death) needs. The system, a joint effort of UNICEF, Utl and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) aims at using technology like internet and mobile phones to easily and quickly register births.

A demonstration by Wilberforce Wandera, the systems administrator at URSB at Mulago Hospital boardroom during its launch, showed the Mobile VRS website where authorised users in hospitals and health centres can upload birth information and print out birth certificates immediately. The site also has a public domain where one can search for a person's registration and also verify it by entering the number of the certificate. This, according to Anthony Ojok Oyuko, Head of Civil Registration at URSB, will be especially useful for the embassies who call hospitals and the registrar's office to confirm the authenticity of a visa applicant's birth certificates.

For births in rural areas, the uploading of birth information will be done through authorised mobile numbers. The information is then approved by verified registrars at sub-county and town council levels. If the information is complete, the birth certificates will then be printed and sent back to the owners through parish chiefs and the notifiers.

If this system works as well as its supposed to, editing of information on birth certificates and reprinting a lost one will be made easier by the presence of the main server with all the records at URSB. From here, it is easy to pull up any records as long as it was uploaded. "The registration for now is open for any children from birth but not more than six months old," says Mr. Ojok.

The Deputy Country Representative UNICEF, May Anyabolu, puts the number of unregistered children under five at five million. She goes ahead to state that the goal of the project is to see the 21 per cent registration rate rise to 80 per cent and hopes that it will have reached at least 60 per cent of the children under five by the end of 2012. "The purpose of this system is to remove bottlenecks in the current existing paper system," she says.

The project is made with a view of from here on forward meaning it is targeting unregistered children under five and new births. It also has a deaths section which operates pretty much the same way as the one for births will. Mr Ojok says those with their birth certificates will wait until the system expands enough and existing records are fed into the server.

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