Tanzania Rolls Out Birth Registration By Mobile Phone

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Less than two in 10 Tanzanians have a birth certificate and the government hopes technology will encourage more people to register with a new birth registration-by-mobile-phone initiative underway.

So far, it’s working, according to AlJazeera. The project has accelerated birth registration after years of stagnation, said Emmy Hudson, acting head of the  government registration agency RITA.

Most parents in rural Tanzania don’t register their children’s births because of cost, long distances to registry offices, the cumbersome process and lack of awareness of the benefits, AlJazeera reported.

Tanzania is rolling out the mobile birth registration over the next five years in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and telecommunications company Tigo. It expects to register about 1 million children under age 5 this year, and 90 percent of all newborns within five years.

The new system will allow parents to send a baby’s name, sex, date of birth and family details by phone to a central data base. A birth certificate will be issued free of charge within days.

This will allow the government to better plan health, education and other public services, AlJazeera reports.

Tanzania has one of the lowest birth registration rates in Eastern and Southern Africa. More than nine out of 10 children under age 5 and 80 percent of the total population do not have birth certificates, according to the 2012 census.

In a country where many rural people live on less than $1 a day, birth certificates have been prohibitively expensive. Parents had to pay 3,500 Tanzanian shillings ($1.60) for a birth certificate within 90 days of a child’s birth, or 4,000 shillings ($1.83) afterwards — plus travel costs.

“It was very inconvenient before since parents had to travel a long distance to the district registrar only to be told their children’s files were missing,” said Anna Mbelwa in an interview with Reuters. She gave birth to a baby boy at Mbalizi hospital in the Southern Mbeya region this month.

Globally, around 290 million children do not possess a birth certificate, according to UNICEF.