Ethiopia: Combating Invisibility - Getting Everyone in the Somali Region Counted

Addis Abeba — Lack of accurate and reliable population data makes policy formulation, development planning and political endeavor difficult. It is a must for any nations of the world to have clear-cut information about its population without which sustainable and holistic development is not attainable. Thus, population census, sample survey and vital event registrations (or civil registration) are the three major sources of demographic data. Civil registration is the best source of demographic data, compared to population census and sample surveys, as the last two are not continuous[1].

Civil registration (particularly birth registration) is the door to many other rights and offers administrative, legal and protection rights. It is recognized in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC. Article 7(1) and in the FDRE Constitution under its article 36 (1)

More than One-third (67/230) of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicators need a data generated from functional Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) systems and therefore SDGs will be able to deliver its promises if we know about which children are thriving and which are left behind though functional birth registration systems. Despite its multi-faceted significance and attention given in SDGs, birth registration and the overall CRVS systems and data are at their infant stages in terms of completeness, if non-existent, in many developing countries[2]. Over 110 low- and middle-income countries lack functional civil registration systems

Ethiopia is one of the sub-Saharan countries with the lowest births and other vital events registered. Less than 10 % of its' children under the age of 5 with their births are registered. According to Ethiopian Demographic and Health Surveys (EDHS), Somali Regional State of Ethiopia has the lowest level of birth registration records with only 1% of its children under the age of 5 with their births are registered[3].

A good question at this point would be what are the bottlenecks to functional civil registration system in the Somali Regional State? And, of course, how can the Somali Region count every birth? In what follows, I will briefly discuss the impediments to the system and better ways forward.

Main Obstacles to Functional Civil Registration System in The Somali Region

Financial and logistic obstacles sit in the heart of the poor civil registration system in the region. It contributes to poor office standards especially at Kebele level and the inability of Vital Event Registration Application agency (VERA) to recruit enough staff, furnish offices with the minimum necessary office materials and cascade their work beyond certain areas. Pertinent to, and as result of this, the agency faces serious challenges on logistics and human resources, and this is evident in all the registration centers (Kebeles). The lack of quality data due to incompetent staff, and the lack of regular monitoring and reporting of the registration sites is both the outcome and associated challenge[4].

Poor or lack of political will or government commitment and understanding among the key stakeholders has resulted in inadequate coordination and poor, if nonexistent, interoperability among the key stakeholders on civil registration works. Despite the health and statistical uses of birth registration as well as the mandate given to the health partners under proclamation number 760/12, there is a clear lack of integration between civil registration, health, education, statistical authorities and other key stakeholders in the Somali Region.

Mobile nature of pastoralists and lack of understanding of the value of civil registration is another obstacle. Majority of dwellers in the Somali Region are pastoralists who move from one place to another in search of pasture and water for their animals. But the proclamation puts restriction on the movement of the documents out of the offices. This coupled with the existing low awareness of the pastoralists on the significance of civil registration keeps the numbers of registered births and the other events in the region the lowest in the country[5].

How can the Somali Region improve the Civil Registration System and get everyone counted?

Following are plausible and doable interventions. Legal reform is the key. Passive registration pursued by the country is not a solution for a mobile population like the Somali pastoralists, nor does the system of using involuntary social networks (Community groups, traditional birth attendants etc.) to notify births, where pastoralists has to walk kilometers to get their vital events registered.

For Somali pastoralists, active registration or a similar system and assigning dedicated Civil Registrar will yield better result and improve the number of vital events registered among the Somali pastoralists. Moreover, official and un-official fees shall not be levied on civil registration and certification process as it discourages pastoralists to register their events. Pastoralists, as well as settled communities in the region, shall be allowed to register their events (births in particular) in case both parents are not available to remove a possible barrier to registration[6].

Improving coordination and interoperability is another way to improve civil registration systems. In the Somali Region, there are visible gaps in the inter-operability and coordination among the key stakeholders. Effective vital registration system calls for the attention, and is the responsibility, of a number of government organs: health, education, city administrations and justice organs at federal and the regional levels as well as other UN/NGO partners including, and mainly, UNICEF, UNHCR (For refugee registration) and others.

The value of civil registration shall be carefully thought out. Vital event's certificates must be made obligatory pre-requisites for various social services to create demand for vital records. For instance, birth certificate shall be necessary to access certain services, for example, when children are first admitted to school, to attest to their dates of birth, and acquiring travel papers to prove nationality, etcetera. The same can be true if immunizations and birth registrations are linked[7].

Lastly but not the least, a functional civil registration system needs a functional government system down to Kebele level. Despite the weak and porous government structures at most of Kebeles in the Somali region, the vital events registration agency faces serious shortages of staff at the Woreda and the city administration levels. Therefore, staff shall be recruited as per the agency structure. Training and all the necessary pre-requisites shall be given to these staff to handle their responsibilities. Enough budget should also be allocated for civil registration in the region[8]. AS

Editor's Note: Abdirahman Ahmed is a Lecturer, Jigjiga University, Somali region. He can be reached at: amuhumad@jju.edu.et

End Notes:

[1] Plan Ethiopia and the African Child Policy Forum (2005). Perception and Practices: A review of birth registration in Addis Ababa and the regional states of Oromia, Amhara, SNNP, Ethiopia.

[2] WHO 2017 World Health Statistics. WHO Geneva

[3] Central Statistical Agency (CSA) [Ethiopia] and ICF. 2016. Ethiopian Demographic and Health Surveys (EDHS), 2016, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Rockville, Maryland, USA: CSA and ICF.

[4] Ahmed, A. (2019). Impediments to civil registration: The case of Somali regional state in Ethiopia. Journal of Social Policy Conferences, 77, https://doi.org/10.26650/jspc.2019.77.0020

[5] Ahmed, A. (2019). Impediments to civil registration: The case of Somali regional state in Ethiopia. Journal of Social Policy Conferences, 77, https://doi.org/10.26650/jspc.2019.77.0020

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

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