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Counting on the Next Generation

Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in eastern and southern Africa. According to the 2012 census, approximately 80% of Tanzanians do not possess birth certificates and only 8% of under-fives have one. In a bid to address this problem, the Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe, launched Phase III of the “Under-Five Mobile Birth Registration” program in the Iringa and Njombe regions in September 2015. This initiative is funded by the Canadian government and is run by the Tanzanian Registration, Insolvency, and Trusteeship Agency (RITA) in partnership with UNICEF and the Millicom Group, operating under the brand name Tigo.

The program was first tested in Temeke district, one of the poorest areas of Tanzania’s economic capital Dar es Salaam. In six weeks, more than 15,000 children received birth certificates and the number of children under the age of five being registered increased from 15% to 44%. The program was then officially launched in 2012 in Mbeya and Mwanza regions where more than 400,000 under-five children were registered and provided with birth certificate from 2013 to date. The operations are now being expanded across the country and the program is expected to benefit more than 200,000 children in the regions of Iringa and Njombe.

Registration in Tanzania used to be a two-step process. Firstly, a child was issued a notification when born, and secondly the family had to get a certificate from the district office. This complex process caused long queues which, together with long distances to cover and registration fees, had the effect of discouraging families from following the process and consequently babies ended up with no birth certificates at all.

According to the law, a birth has to be registered within 90 days. The process costs TZS3,500 (USD 1.6) whereas in case of late request, families have to pay TZS4,000. This may sound like a small fee but if travel costs are also considered, it becomes a high price in a country where many rural people live on less than USD2 a day.
The Under-Five Mobile Birth Registration program has transformed the system from a two-step lengthy process to a one-stop free-of-charge provision at a more convenient location. The service has been decentralized and the authority to issue birth certificates has been delegated to existing healthcare centers. A total of 357 health centers have been established as registration points in Iringa and Njombe regions, bringing registration much closer to where births occur. Additionally, Tigo has donated as many as 800 mobile phones enabling more than 1,500 registration assistants to speed up the registration process. Under the new scheme, parents can simply send the baby’s name, sex, date of birth, and family details by text message to a central database and a birth certificate is issued in a matter of days, free of charge.

As a part of this streamlining, RITA has also decided to integrate birth registration into routine health checks for newborn babies. This means that mothers have to visit their local healthcare center only once and are able to complete several operations in that one visit, minimizing, time, cost, and effort. The new system is being rolled out across the country, and at the time of writing was already operating in 10 of the country’s 26 regions. Given the initiative’s remarkable results in Tanzania, other African countries, namely Uganda and Ghana, are implementing the mobile birth registration system as part of wider ambitions for these governments to plan long-term health and education strategies.

As many as 2.4 billion people in the world lack official identification. According to UNICEF, about 290 million children globally do not possess a birth certificate. Identification is necessary for children to enrol in university, find employment, and get a passport. This scheme aims to give these children those opportunities.

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