Government officials have been forced to burn the midnight oil in search of solutions to the perennial low registration of the population, amid constraints in recording of births.
Among suggestions being floated is drafting of new legal provisions that seek to establish registration desks at every health facility. The other is to fully enforce the stiff penalties for parents who fail to register a child’s birth, as provided for in the existing law.
Officials at the National Commission for Children (NCC) say the 2008 law governing registration of people and issuance of national identity cards should be updated to hasten registration.
Zaina Nyiramatama, the executive secretary at the NCC says, not registering a newborn is a denial of children rights and an offence and that it puts the life of the baby at risk if the government cannot monitor its wellbeing.
“We realised that the current law is not friendly; we want to make sure mothers are facilitated to register their babies early, even at the hospitals, and there are provisions for mothers who delay to register their babies to do it later,” she said.
NCC reports show at least 70 per cent of mothers in Rwanda deliver at hospitals or other health facilities, with the rest of deliveries happening at home and hence putting women and their babies’ lives at stake.
The law stipulates that all children born in the country be registered within 15 to, at most, 30 days after birth, and issued with a birth registration certificate.
“It is the responsibility and obligation of the parents to register the birth of their child at the appointed administrative officer,” said Ms Nyiramatama. “We will convene a meeting of all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Justice as well as the National Identity Project, before the end of the year to outline new provisions so that we table the Bill as soon as possible.”
Officials say registering a baby early is important since it is the official and visible evidence of the state’s legal recognition of the baby’s existence as a member of society.
“Birth registration enables a child to receive medical treatment, go to school, inherit property, prevent child exploitation and find legal work. All these rely on birth registration to prove identity and thus entitlement to basic rights,” reads a Unicef report on child rights and conventions.
At the recent national dialogue, parents made call-ins urging the president to appeal on their behalf for a longer registration period but he instead called upon law enforcers to fast-track birth registration as provided for by the respective laws.
“We wanted more time; provisions are good, but for some parents it has been very cumbersome. Take the situation of a single mother who is frustrated because the child’s father denied paternity. She won’t register the baby on time,” said Annonciata Butera, a mother of three living in Kicukiro District.
According to Assouman Murera, a local leader in Niboye Sector in the district, cases of mothers who fail to register their newborns exist but are still minimal compared with those who opt to do so at birth.
“So far, many have turned up to have their newborns registered early because they fear going to court and paying the Rwf2,000 fine, among other complications, but the sensitisation continues,” he said.
The recent African Child Policy Forum 2013 report ranked Rwanda among the 10 most child-friendly countries on the continent, citing Chad, Eritrea and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the worst.
To have a personalised and unique identification system, Rwanda is setting up technologies that will give newborns identification numbers at birth in a smart card format.
National Identity Project director-general Pascal Nyamulinda says the computerisation programme is expected to be an inclusive one that the government will use to enhance its financial, insurance, security and health systems.
The person registering the child, according to the existing law, shall be ordered to show a birth certificate signed by a medical officer who witnessed the birth.
“If such a certificate is not available, the informant shows an attestation signed by the cell executive secretary indicating the names of the parents and the child’s birth date. The village leader shall countersign the attestation,” the law further states.