By Teddy Mofya - CCESP Development Facilitator, Zambia
Every child has the right to a legal identity, but a quarter of children born today do not “officially” exist. These children are deprived of birth certificates – their first legal proof of identity – simply because their parents cannot afford it, cannot reach it, or face some other barrier to learning about and accessing registration services. According to the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (2018), only 14.2% of children under the age of five have registered births, with 6.6% having birth certificates.
Without a birth certificate, children are invisible to their governments. This means they may miss out on essential programmes like child protection, health care and education that help secure their most fundamental rights. Because children without a birth certificate are unable to prove their age, they are more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation, or forced into early marriage or child labour. If they come into contact with the justice system, they may be prosecuted as adults and exposed to even more violence.
In an effort to ensure that boys and girls from vulnerable households remain protected while at home during the COVID-19 pandemic period, World Vision has partnered with the Government of the Republic of Zambia through the Department of Passport and National Registration to strengthen civil registration systems aimed at multiplying registration and issuance of birth certificates in Northern Province.
A total of 4,800 boys and girls in Mungwi district have been registered, while 4,330 certificates have been issued. When issued with a birth certificate, it is believed that boys and girls will have official legal proof of identity that can help protect them from violence, abuse neglect and exploitation. Without a birth certificate, children are unable to prove their age, which puts them at a much higher risk of being forced into early marriage.
“I am grateful to the Government and World Vision for ensuring that children in our community can have proof to confirm their age. I am thankful that my children and their friends have been able to receive birth certificates”, says 40-year-old Bridget, a mother of three children.
“Working with World Vision, efforts are being made by increasing mobile registration service points where children can be registered in communities in Mungwi, developing local by-laws that favour birth registration at the community level and innovations in conducting the process by integrating End Child Marriage (ECM) campaign messaging through ECM mat”, says Kennedy Makukula, the Provincial Registrar for Northern Province. “The organisation has always been supporting developmental projects aimed at strengthening child protection systems in the province and country at large. World Vision supported the construction of the Birth Certificate Issuance Centre, which was handed over to the Government in December 2019.”
And World Vision's Mwamba Cluster Area Programme Manager Charles Phiri noted that birth certificates help protect children against child marriage, as it provides proof of age. “Birth registration provides a child with legal identity and a proof of existence. It is a right for every child as it provides evidence of child’s birthplace, parentage and proof of age especially when issues of abuse occur in trying to define whether one is a child or not”, he says.