The Difference a Birth Certificate Makes

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By Maureen Siele, ChildFund Kenya
Posted on 4/26/2017
Catherine hugs her children Akinyi, 5 and Ochieng, 7, at their home in Dandora, Kenya.

Catherine hugs her children, Akinyi, 5, and Ochieng, 7, at their home in Dandora, Kenya.

A birth certificate is a lifelong passport for many rights. Without it, one cannot access public education, health care and even legal systems. In Kenya, a child without a birth certificate cannot be admitted to a public school or register for national exams needed for admission to secondary school and college. An unregistered orphan risks losing his inheritance. As unregistered children grow up, they cannot legally marry, own certain types of property, access the banking system and formal labor market, or even vote.

But between 2011 and 2015, through a USAID-funded project called APHIAplus, ChildFund and its local partner organizations helped over 77,000 vulnerable children in Kenya’s coastal region and Nairobi obtain birth certificates and thus lifelong access to their civil rights.

Two of them, Ochieng, 7, and Akinyi, 5, live in Nairobi with their mother, Catherine, who lost her own parents when she was 15. Catherine patches together a living by doing menial jobs such as washing clothes for individual households. Before she and her children received their birth certificates, it was impossible for her to access various government services on their behalf, such as a cash transfer program for children made vulnerable by poverty and HIV or AIDS.

“I am an orphan,” Catherine says, “and to apply for the monthly government cash transfer program for orphans, I needed my birth certificate and those of my children to prove that my children and I are in need. I did not have any money to apply for the certificates, but through the project’s assistance we were able to get the papers. I used them to apply for the cash transfer program, and now I get Kenya shillings 2,000 a month (about $19), which I use mainly to buy food and other basic items for my family.

“Before I got these certificates,” she adds, “my daughter could not join a government school, so I struggled to pay school fees in a low-class private school. When I got the certificate, she finally got admission to the government school. I am also able to apply for government medical insurance for my family through the National Health Insurance Fund.”

Statistics indicate that only about half of children born in Kenya have birth certificates. Asked why they did not register their children, most parents cite various reasons including the tedious and lengthy application process, lack of time to travel to registration offices, and lack of money to pay application fees.

Now, Ochieng and Akinyi have a passport to many more opportunities than they did before, and that means a better, more stable future.