Tens of Thousands of Births Remain Unregistered

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During the height of last year’s Ebola crisis which traumatized the country, rumors swirled that health clinics were not only inadequate in dealing with the virus, but were also contributing to the deaths of non-Ebola patients who were being turned away for fear that they were infected.
Many women returned to delivering their babies at home during the epidemic resulting in a birth registration failure.
Health officials say that because many pregnant women chose to have their babies at home, tens of thousands of children in the country have not been officially registered.
Authorities of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCEF) in Liberia have reported registering recently about 12,000 children who did not receive birth certificates at birth.
The officials quoted by Voice of America (VOA) are saying that only 700 births were recorded between January and May this year.
In response, Health Minister, Dr. Bernice Dahn, maintained that the government is working to update registrations, including a backlog (build up) from the ministry before the Ebola outbreak last year.
Deirdre Kiernan, Senior Emergency Coordinator in Liberia for UNICEF is also quoted by the VOA as saying that without birth certificates, “thousands of children, and society as a whole, are at risk.”
“It harms society overall because you don’t know who exists and who doesn’t,” Kiernan said. “You are taking away statehood by not providing a birth certificate. To which country do they belong? They are not counted, and if they are not counted, then they are not visible,” Kiernan stated.
“That means state services can’t be calculated properly because you don’t know how many children there are. You don’t know where to put schools, the health facilities, how many teachers you should have … because you can’t project… You don’t have accurate numbers of children.”
Kiernan also told the VOA that children who can’t prove their age are at risk if they come into conflict with the law. With no birth records, underage children could be treated as adults in the court system. They are also more susceptible to being trafficked or illegally adopted.
UNICEF is working to strengthen registration systems with training, logistics and outreach efforts to parents across Liberia, said Kiernan.
“In a country where it’s not really part of the culture to register their children—where people do not see the benefits of why they should register a child—they are not thinking long term,” Kiernan observed. “It has to become a habit. The best thing is to make it easily available, free, and as soon as the child is born, make sure it is happening.”
Kiernan said that for parents wishing to register their newborns, the process is simple.
Simple in that, “you go either to a health facility or to the general town chief’s office, which has a ledger,” she said. “They register everything, and they send it to the registrar at the district level. Then they send it on to the county level, where it gets put into a computer and the birth certificate is printed. It gets sent back down, and you get the certificate delivered to you.”
Meanwhile Kiernan has disclosed that mobile teams are also going from place to place across the country to register children. So far, over 12,000 of the children have received birth certificates.
Similar efforts are reportedly being considered for Guinea and Sierra Leone that were also worst hit by Ebola.
Liberia’s last Ebola patient was released from hospital care July 23.

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