Social Issues

The struggle for civil registration in sub-Saharan Africa

By María Rodríguez

Dakar, Jun 16  (efe-epa).- Around 95 million children aged five and under in sub-Saharan Africa are “invisible” to the system as paperwork like birth certificates, a formality taken for granted in much of the rest of the world, is scant.

According to the United Nations children’s agency Unicef, just 45 percent of children born in sub-Saharan Africa are registered at birth.

There are vast regional varieties to the data, with 85 percent of newborns registered by authorities in Cape Verde, the Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Botswana, Gabon and Mali compared to less than 15 percent in Somalia, Malawi, Chad and Zambia, Unicef has said.

“The legal visibility of children is very important, because if someone does not feature on the civil registry, then they do not exist at a judicial level. And if they don’t exist, they do not benefit, they are not recognized by the state,” Aliou Ousmane Sall, Senegal’s Director of Civil Status, tells Efe.

To have a birth certificate is to have access to education, health care and official identification that is needed to vote. Official IDs can also help ward against child labour, early marriage or, on a legal level, ensure a child is never tried as an adult.


Civil registration systems in sub-Saharan Africa face a raft of challenges.

“It is managed by laws that, in the majority of cases, are old and have not been reformed,”  Mirkka Tuulia Mattila, a civil registration specialist at Unicef’s office for West and Central Africa, which is based in Dakar, tells Efe.

“It results in, for example, digital registration not being authorised in the majority of West and Central African countries. It’s done manually and depends, first and foremost, on legal reform.”

However the principal reason why parents cannot register their newborn children falls largely on accessibility.

Binette Ndiaye, the coordinator general for Forum Citoyenne, a civil society platform, says: “If the civil registration center is a little far from the place of birth, people aren’t motivated to go and they put it off until they eventually forget to do it altogether.”

In rural areas, the rate of registration is as low as 35 percent compared to 65 percent in urban areas, according to Unicef.

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