Cameroon: Birth Registration - West Region Grapples With IDPs, Local People

The influx of thousands of people fleeing the war in the North West and South West Regions is putting an extra burden on local civil status registration stakeholders.

The raging civil conflict in the English-speaking North West and South West Regions of Cameroon is having its toll on the neighbouring French-speaking West Region. According to Governor of West Region, Awah Fonka Augustine, 63,500 families of Internally-displaced People, IDPs, have taken refuge in the region. "Some never had birth certificates. Others lost theirs or abandoned them while fleeing the war. These people also lost most or all of their official papers in the war," explains Kenko Ngankam Seraphine, head of National Civil Status Registration Office, BUNEC for West Region. Meanwhile, a study carried out on birth registration in the West Region in 2018 reveals that 64,000 people do not have birth certificates. "They include children, middle age people and even the elderly," says Kenko Ngankam Seraphine. Out of the number, 36,000 are from Noun Division alone. The case of Noun Division is attributed to a number of reasons - cultural practices, the little importance given to owning birth certificates, and ignorance. "The people do not realise that to officially exist in the country, you must own a birth certificate," notes Kenko. "We are putting together measures to encourage people to declare births and be issued birth certificates. We have met court officials to ease the task - especially after the elapse of the deadline of three months following birth. After the deadline, a birth certificate can only be obtained through supplementary court judgements," Kenko clarifies. According to her, there is need for enhanced sensitisation of the public on the importance of owning birth certificate and the timeframe for obtaining it. "Many people do not like the idea of going to court to obtain supplementary judgements to enable them acquire birth certificates. Parents must understand their role in acquiring birth certificates for their children," Kenko Ngankam Seraphine underscores. "Many women deliver in health facilities, but never bother to get birth certificates for their babies. They only consider it after the children attain school-going age or are about to sit certificate exams to complete primary school," Kenko explains. Beyond the legal timeframe of acquiring birth certificate within 90 days, many people complain about the high cost of obtaining supplementary court judgements in order to obtain the document.

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