By Ban Dhayi
RAS JDIR, Tunisia, 19 April 2011 – For Sabeela, 28, fleeing the fighting in Libya was particularly hazardous. Heavily pregnant, the Nigerian remained anxious about giving birth while on the seven-hour bus journey from Tripoli to Ras Jdir in southern Tunisia.
“I kept praying all along the road to Shousha camp and was asking all the people in the bus to pray for us,” she recalls. “I was so worried about my baby as I was thinking of the uncertain future that awaits him.”
All her worries evaporated once she arrived at Shousha transit camp in Ras Jdir, safe in the knowledge that she would have access to medical facilities and appropriate care once she was ready to give birth.
A few days later, on 8 April, Sabeela did give birth to a baby boy, Mosab, at the local Ben Guerdane hospital. He weighed 3.5 kg. “What else do I need to be happy?” asks Sabeela, as she lies in a bed in the hospital’s maternity ward.
Not only is Mosab healthy and strong, but he also has an even more precious item – an official birth certificate. This vital document is the culmination of a registration process made possible through the joint efforts of UNICEF and the Tunisian health authorities.
Umaima, 25, is another of those fleeing Libya who has given birth at the hospital. She arrived in the United Arab Emirates-run transit camp in Ras Jdir four days before her due date. The expectant mother was suffering from hypertension and needed an emergency delivery by caesarean section.
Umaima struggles to open her eyes at the hospital as the effect of the general anaesthesia wears off. As she does so, a nurse lays her newborn in a cradle close to her bed. He weighs almost 3 kg.
“You have given birth to a cute boy, what will you name him?” asks the nurse. “Yaseen,” answers Umaima, tired but smiling.
Yaseen was also issued a birth certificate, which will now help the smooth repatriation of the whole family to Sudan, their country of origin, as soon as the doctor gives Umaima medical clearance to travel.
First step in attaining rights
Registering a birth is the first legal acknowledgement of a child's existence and a crucial first step in attaining rights. As proof of age, it helps protect children against child labour, illegal adoption, under-age military service, trafficking and forced marriage.
During emergencies, birth certificates also provide a crucial means for tracing separated or unaccompanied children.
Not being registered means not being counted. “Putting in place a vital birth registration system for newborn refugees is one of UNICEF’s core commitments for children in emergencies,” says Hela Skhiri, UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Tunis.
“It will also help us meet our international obligations, and in particular the Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Mosab and Yaseen are among 14 newborns that have been issued with birth certificates at Ben Guerdane hospital since people began arriving at the transit camps on the Tunisia-Libya border. This invaluable piece of paper will provide them with the right start in life.