Florence M. (not her name), in her late thirties, is today a journalist in Yaounde. Thanks largely to her dogged determination while still in elementary and secondary school. Growing up out of her home village with an illiterate aunt in Mbouda, Bamboutous Division of the West Region, Florence's education almost ended prematurely after primary school for want of a birth certificate.
"I discovered that I had misplaced my birth certificate when I was about to register the entrance examination into secondary school and the "Cerftificat d'etudes primaires" CEP (the Francophone equivalent of the First School Leaving Certificate, FSLC)," she recalls. "The school authorities sent word to my aunt to accompany me to the Mayor's office to get a new birth certificate. But she vehemently refused, saying she didn't want any problem with the authorities!" Florence recollected with a tone of regret. "With such a response, my education looked set to end after elementary school," Florence remembered with a tinge of scare.
As an illiterate, Florence's aunt did not see the importance of owning a birth certificate. It was then left to the little girl of less than 10 years to take her destiny into her hands. This, while the huge risk of ending six years of elementary education without sitting certificate examinations stared her in the face. "Fortunately, I still had a photocopy of the misplaced birth certificate. The school directed me to the Mbouda Mayor's office where a certified-true copy of the birth certificate was issued to me. I didn't bother to complete the process and used it in registering the entrance examination into secondary school and the CEP. Still without the assistance of my aunt," Florence said. And fortunately for her, she passed and went to secondary school - still in Mbouda.
But Florence's birth certificate woes were to haunt her again in fourth year of secondary school. Naively thinking that she had resolved the problem in primary school, she promptly included the certified-true copy of the birth certificate as part of registration papers for the "Brevet d'études du premier cycle," BEPC (Junior Cambridge or Junior Secondary Certificate) examination. Again to her chagrin, the school authorities said she did not have a birth certificate. That the certified-true copy of birth certificate she had could not take the place of the original. Florence was then advised to take the document to the Mbouda Magistrate's Court for a special authorisation to be given to Mbouda Mayor's office to issue her another birth certificate.
"When I informed my aunt, she refused accompanying me to court, explaining that she did not want anything to do with the authorities! Now aged about 14, I had to go from one office to another until a new birth certificate was issued me. Ever since, I have been the proud owner of a birth certificate because I was determined to do so. If I counted on my aunt, my education would have ended abruptly after elementary school. And I will not be a journalist today," Florence M. reminisced.
Not many children in Cameroon today are as courageous and determined as Florence was. Talk less of their parents. Owning a birth certificate, a component of vital statistics that are important for a nation's development planning, is still not a pressing concern to many parents. According to recent statistics, a whopping 43,000 pupils in the Far North Region risk missing certificate examinations this year for want of birth certificates. Overall, 500,000 school children in the Far North Region are without birth certificates! The grim reality of this situation is that these children do not officially exist since their births were not registered. And have therefore not been factored into Cameroon's development planning.
A recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS - a worldwide study sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF - and data from the National Institute of Statistics, show that 66.1 per cent of Cameroonian children aged below five years had birth certificates in 2014. A breakdown of the figure by region shows that Adamawa had 69.8 per cent, Centre (excluding Yaounde) 81 per cent, East 58.2 per cent, Far North 42.1 per cent and the Littoral (excluding Douala) 84.4 per cent.
The North Region had 60.9 per cent, North West 77.1 per cent, West 83.1 per cent, South 62.6 per cent, while the South West Region recorded a 55.6 per cent birth certificate ownership rate. The commercial capital, Douala, had 91.4 per cent, while the political capital, Yaounde, took 87.6 per cent.