Children without birth certificates are stateless because they are missing in vital statistics.
The document is not so big, yet it is the very life of the child because it proves its existence. Authorities need to know how many children are born in a year in order to plan for their upkeep. Moreover, a birth certificate is the child's first identity paper. Notwithstanding its importance, many children in Cameroon are without birth certificates - thereby rendering them stateless!
A three-year pilot project by the National Civil Status Registration Office, BUNEC in Betaré-Oya Subdivision in Lom and Djerem Division of East Region and Mokolo Subdivision, Mayo-Tsanaga Division of the Far North Region, suggests that close to a million children in the country could be without birth certificates.
Because of the gravity of the situation, the Minister of Decentralisation and Local Development, Georges Elanga Obam, on March 7, 2019, directed all Senior Divisional Officers, SDOs in the country to liaise with mayors to carry out census of people without birth certificates and regularise their situation. District hospital directors are to issue attestations of apparent age and magistrate courts birth declarations to enable the concerned secure birth certificates. All this in collaboration with BUNEC regional chiefs.
A recent BUNEC study shows that nearly 43,000 final year elementary children in some parts of the Far North Region risk missing their 2019 examinations for want of birth certificates. Overall, a whooping 400,000 primary school children in the region are without birth certificates! In 2018, 18,000 pupils in the Far North Region missed their certificate examinations for lack of birth certificates, BUNEC says.
In the West Region, 56,597 children are without birth certificates in 6 of the 8 divisions - excepting Upper Nkam and Nde Divisions. This is the result of a two-year study carried out by BUNEC in courts, health facilities and civil registration centres. "We took into account the number of requests for the issue of birth certificates made to these offices and by civil society organisations," explained Séraphine Kenko Ngankam, BUNEC West Regional head.
The most affected divisions are Noun with 36,388 cases and Bamboutos with more than 14,000 children without birth certificates. Meanwhile, 381 civil status registration centres exist in the West Region, with 351 actually operational. In the East Region, a similar situation obtains.
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, MICS report for 2014, birth registration in Cameroon was only 66.1 per cent. In the 10 regions and two major cities of Yaounde and Douala, the situation was as follows: Adamawa, 69.8 per cent; Centre (excluding Yaounde), 81 per cent; Douala, 91.4 per cent; East, 58.2 per cent; Far North, 42.1 per cent; Littoral (excluding Douala), 84.4 per cent; and North, 60.9 per cent. North West had 77.1 per cent, West, 83.1 per cent; South, 62.6 per cent; South West, 55.6 per cent; and Yaounde 87.6 per cent. Meanwhile, another MICS survey has since been conducted and results are being analysed.
Alexandre Marie Yomo, Director Manager of the National Civil Status Registration Office, BUNEC, explains that the current birth registration drive in Cameroon is part of an international project financed by partners and involves three other African countries - Burkina Faso, Uganda and Namibia. For now, a census is ongoing in all 10 Cameroonian regions to determine the true picture of birth registration.
"Without birth certificate, one does not belong to any nation," says Krys Tobie, Head of Communications at BUNEC. "Birth certificate confers nationality. The fact that children whose births were not registered grow without it, especially in remote areas, makes the situation very complicated because they do not have any form of identity. The consequences of non-registration at birth are the challenges such children face when they attain the legal age to begin school. Some schools do not admit children without birth certificates, thereby increasing the rate of illiteracy in the country," Tobie adds.
Since foundation on February 13, 2013, BUNEC has been assisted by partners like the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF and PROCIVIS. They have together initiated strategic programmes, including public awareness and training of local community people throughout the country. "Because the situation has been there for decades, it needs time, more sensitization campaigns and hard work to change people's mentalities to make them understand the importance of registering their children at birth, especially in places like the northern part of the country," Tobie explains.
According to him, another major problem is finance. Much work has to be done on the field, especially in remote areas. Unfortunately, the limited budget does not allow work to be done effectively. On the other hand, the absence of civil status centres in some areas also stands as a major problem; not forgetting the actual context in the country which is creating many Internally-displaced People, IDPs.
The National Civil Status Registration Office is therefore putting strategies in place to make the collection of statistics dynamic in the days ahead. "BUNEC, through its 10 regional agencies, is working hard on the field. Administrative and technical assessments are frequently carried out to facilitate the collection of vital statistics and upgrade of BUNEC's database," Krys Tobie assures.