An estimated 1.5 million children in Burundi are without birth certificates with those under five missing out on free medical care, but a nationwide campaign currently under way to register about 170,000 children under 18 in the next two months, could begin to change things.
People fail to get birth certificates partly due to ignorance, local customs in some areas, long distances to registration offices, corruption, and the cost of late registrations.
Access to free health care for under fives is a particular challenge.
Jeannette Kanyange, a vendor at Kirundo market and a single mother of two children under four, said she had attempted to register the children in the past but failed. Registry officials had asked for the father to be present, despite the fact that single mothers are allowed to register their children without the presence of the father. “If they [the children] are ill, it is a real problem, I cannot afford the cost of the medical bill,” she said.
Parents do not consider registration of their children a priority because of “ignorance of their rights and lack of information on the importance of registration,” said Evariste Nsabiyumva, assistant home affairs minister.
“Customs play a role in this. There are many cases of polygamy and if a marriage is not legalized, children will not be registered.”
Members of the minority Batwa ethnic group do not generally register their children, said Nsabiyumva.
Birth certificates are free if issued within the first 14 days of life, but parents have to pay 30,000 francs (US$21.4) if they register their children later than two weeks after birth.
Corruption is also to blame, said Aline Mukakaringa, a resident of the Busoni area in Kirundo.
“I went there. They [the registry officials] asked me for 2, 000 francs (about $1.4) but I know it is free. If you have to pay them and pay the witness, where can I get the money. They registered them [her first two children] but I never got the birth certificates. I did not try to register the third [child].”
The current birth registration campaign is focusing on Kirundo and Muyinga provinces, according to the head of the NGO Geste Humanitaire, Hermenegilde Rupereza, and will then be rolled out in the other 15 provinces.
The UN Children's Fund is supporting the registration campaign launched on 16 March in the northern province of Kirundo and organized by the Ministry of Interior and Geste Humanitaire.