By: Darlington D. Sesay Outreach and Awareness Officer, NCRA.
A child born and registered is counted and visible in the democratic and development process of every state.
Society first acknowledges a child’s existence and identity through birth registration, which is the entry point of identity management. The right to be recognized as a person before the law is a critical step in ensuring lifelong protection and is a prerequisite for exercising all other forms of human rights.
Birth registration is the process of recording a child’s birth. It is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence, and provides legal recognition of that child’s identity.
Birth registration is one of the fundamental rights contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 7 of the CRC stipulates that every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to acquire, amongst other things, a name and a nationality. Birth registration plays a pivotal role in the realization of some of the rights laid down in the CRC, including the right to identity, development and protection. As birth registration marks the first point of legal recognition of the existence of a child by the government, the absence of birth registration means that the government is yet to legally recognize or acknowledge the existence of the child – that child is invisible to its government – meaning he/she could miss out on their rights being protected and upheld, as well as essential services like health care and education among others.
According to UNICEF, the births of around one quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide have never been recorded. These children’s lives matter, but they cannot be protected if governments don’t even know they exist. Target (16.9) under Goal 16 of the SDGs aims to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030. It is only through well – functioning civil registration systems, which are the main vehicles through legal identity for all, that target 16.9 – can be achieved.
The slogan “making everyone visible” was not coined by mistake or by just rendering mere lip service to the above. It was put forward by CRVS experts to ensure that African leaders take the lead and commit themselves in strengthening birth registration through a functioning civil registration system; as the only way to count everyone and track all births and deaths is through civil registration.
Birth Registration Systems in Sierra Leone
Birth registration in Sierra Leone has been a challenging factor over the years due to the fact that the appropriate mechanisms were not in place to conduct systematic recording and detailing information of a child. Many children are born and die without leaving a trace in any official records or statistics. This was due to the absence of a functioning civil registration system that could adequately account for the births and deaths and other vital events that happened across the country.
Before the repealed of the Births and Deaths Act of 1983, the National Office of Births and Deaths within the Ministry of Health and Sanitation was mandated to conduct all birth registration across the country. However, the process was slow, unreliable and 100% manual. In 2016, the NCR Act was passed into law, mandating that the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) Pursuant to the NCR Act of 2016, be responsible for the continuous, permanent and compulsory recording of occurrences and characteristics of vital events including births, deaths, marriages, divorces, nullities and adoptions. The Act further provides for the establishment of permanent and continuous registration centers as one stop shops throughout Sierra Leone. This was to enhance birth registration and other vital events occurring in the country more effective and efficient in providing credible and reliable data to all. The Authority has Offices across the country including the sparsely populated and remote districts of Falaba and Bonthe Island. With the NCRA at the helm of affairs in registering births and other vital events across the country and the astute leadership prowess demonstrated by the Director – General of the NCRA, Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi, the process has been tailored to meet international standards and best practice which have paved the way for more support and collaboration from both national and international organizations. The NCRA has served as a deterrent to the concept of one man having multiple records, and identity fraud has started taking an incline movement pointing downwards in the country.
Legal Requirement to register all Births in Sierra Leone
Section 25 of the NCR Act gives the Authority the mandate to provide information in relation to births and other vital events occurring in the country. As I stated above, birth registration is a right and not a choice, and the responsibility of parents in fulfillment of that right is to ensure that by law, they register the birth of a child with the NCRA. Furthermore, section 45(1) of the NCR Act makes it compulsory on parents to register the birth of a child not later than 3 months (90 days) from the date of the birth, and to issue a birth certificate immediately after the completion of the birth registration process. It is free to register a birth if the child is less than 3 months (90 days) old. However, births that are registered after the child is 3 months are deemed to be late registrations, and attract a fee of Le. 10,000 (Ten thousand leones) and Le. 30,000 (Thirty thousand leones) for Delay and Certified True Copy of birth certificate, payable to the National Revenue Authority (NRA). Section 46 (1) prohibits the NCRA from registering a birth more than 12 months from the date of the birth without the consent of the Director – General in writing. – My question now is why should parents have to wait longer than the stipulated time before registering the birth of a child? Is it deliberate on the part of the parents not to register their child’s birth? Of course, a resounding yes! Most parents do not actually realize the need for a child to be registered immediately after birth, until they are faced with the existing reality of the importance of a birth certificate to the existence of a child.
The need for parents to register their child’s birth is as important as the birth itself, because without legal proof of identity, children are left uncounted and invisible. When a child is registered, that child does not only connect its status with the state but rather stands a better chance of benefiting from development programs rolled out by the Government of Sierra leone and other development partners. Birth registration helps us to know who we are, where we live, work and what we need to better our living conditions. Birth registration does not only serve as the nation’s identification systems but also, it helps government to develop and implement evidence – based policies and programs and to deliver adequate services to the population. With a birth certificate, the child also stands a better chance to benefiting from immunizations programs rolled out in the country, thereby prolonging the life of that child.
Birth registration is a right and not a choice simply because it is the only legal way for a child to get a birth certificate and a child who has been registered will automatically be issued with a certified true copy birth certificate (containing particulars of birth such as names, date of birth, place of birth and family relationships) which is regarded as a legal document necessary for establishing identity. In addition, a birth certificate is instrumental in establishing proof of nationality and for obtaining identification documents such as passports and national identity cards. Birth registration helps to safeguard the child being stateless and halts child marriage and human trafficking.
The birth registration system is also an integral part of the civil registration system. As such, aggregated data derived from a functioning civil registration system – NCRA to be specific, is vital for social and economic planning. Reliable and timely information is the cornerstone of good decision-making and governance. The Government and development partners can use the statistical information to monitor population trends, for planning, and provision of public services such as health and education. As a result, the absence of non-universal and continuous registration – such as birth registration is detrimental to social planning and resource allocation.
The absence of birth registration can also have enduring consequences. It is a painful elaboration of the fact that currently, in Sierra Leone, access to education and health services are contingent on providing proof of eligibility (birth certificate and National Identification Number – NIN) issued by the NCRA, and without a birth certificate an unregistered child may be denied access. When an unregistered child becomes an adult, they may experience difficulties in establishing their nationality, or establishing their eligibility to participate in the electoral process. Without a birth certificate, many children cannot get routine vaccines and other healthcare services.
Parents! By registering your child at birth and issued with a birth certificate which provides proof of legal identity, the rights of that child can be protected and universal access to social services can be enabled. If we are to fulfil our promise to making everyone visible or leave no one behind, parents must ensure that every child is registered at birth with the NCRA and receives a passport to lifelong protection – a birth certificate.
Registration at birth is free: Why Delay?