Namibia launches pilot project for birth registration

By David Koch

WINDHOEK, Namibia, 31 October 2008 - Declaring that every child has a right to a name and a nationality, the Government of Namibia - in collaboration with UNICEF - has launched a pilot programme to ensure that all children born in hospital are registered at birth.

Speaking at the official launch of the initiative, Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Rosalia Nghidinwa said: "The pilot project we are launching here today is aimed at ensuring that all babies that are born at maternity wards are registered and given birth certificates, soon after birth."

Commended as an important milestone for Namibia, the pilot project was launched at the high-volume Katutura State Hospital in Windhoek.

Birth registration as a right

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child classifies birth registration as a right. Birth registration and birth certificates are essential for children to gain access to critical health care, education and social services.

About 70 per cent of Namibian children under five years of age are registered, but all of them do not have birth certificates. In fact, about 40 per cent of Namibian children under five lack birth certificates, which are a prerequisite for state-run child welfare grants.

Namibia is also home to approximately 250,000 orphans and vulnerable children, with only 95,000 benefiting from state grants. Those missing out are children who are not registered and do not have birth certificates.

"UNICEF is prepared to give technical expertise to the government to ensure that appropriate legal measures and policies are in place to address the backlog of birth registration," said UNICEF Representative in Namibia Ian McLeod.

Threat to human development

Mr. McLeod warned that the failure to make sure all children are registered and issued birth certificates is a threat to human development.

"Children without birth registration are the same children who are disadvantaged in terms of their socio-economic status, education, health care and protection," he said.

The innovative pilot project is collaboration between the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, and UNICEF. Reiterating his ministry's commitment to expanded birth registration, the Minister of Health, Dr. Richard Kamwi, said that plans call for rolling out this service to all of the country's 34 hospitals (starting with 6 hospitals in 2009), as well as its health centres and clinics.

UNICEF will work with the government to scale up the pilot project - with a particular focus on health facilities in remote areas of the country; the regions with the highest percentage of unregistered births; and the facilities with the highest percentage of deliveries per month.