A recent report by Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics ( NISR) - Rwanda Vital Statistics Report 2020 indicates that timely registered births fell from 78 percent in 2019 to 72.3 percent in 2020, leading to an increase in late registrations from 22 percent to 27.7 percent.
While the government recently announced plans to change the registration system to allow the process to take place at health centres, there is also growing concern that many children born during the Covid-19 pandemic may not have been registered at birth because some parents could not travel to local administration offices to register their new babies.
Despite the statutory requirement for all civil registration procedures including death and birth registration having to take place at the sector level within 15 days, it became difficult to enforce this during the prolonged Covid-19 lockdown.
And while coronavirus restrictions are being gradually lifted, many parents are yet to officially register their newborns.
Moreover, the country is experiencing a baby boom after many conceived during the pandemic.
Yet without a birth certificate, children may lack access to services like health care and education. A lack of recognition and support will ultimately make life more difficult for children as they grow older.
Every year, thousands of children die from preventable diseases before they reach the age of five. Unregistered children are often unable to gain access to health care services or pay more for those services than a registered child.
A birth certificate also means an education. Without birth registration, a child can be kept away from school. But with one, a child will have the necessary documentation needed to enrol in publicly funded schools.
It can provide protection. Without identification, government officials have no proof of a child’s existence. As a result, the law is incapable of protecting children from crimes and abuse. But effective birth registration protects children and provides them with their legal rights.
It can help provide an inheritance. If an unregistered child’s parents pass away, they need to legally prove they are related to inherit their family property. But with birth registration, a child will have the legal proof of their family ties, ensuring they receive what belongs to them.
It creates a permanent record of existence. If a disaster strikes and a child is separated from his or her family, a reunion could be next to impossible without proper identification.
But with birth registration, government officials can safely unite families and prevent any child from going unaccounted for.
Therefore, the government needs to do more, including rolling out a public awareness campaign calling for every child to be registered, as a major step in ensuring children can access their basic rights.