Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

Namibia: Government steps up birth registrations

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 22 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Namibia: Government steps up birth registrations, 22 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48e085dc1a.html [accessed 27 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

JOHANNESBURG, 22 September 2008 (IRIN) - Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Namibian children may be deprived of social service benefits, but a new government initiative launched at one of the country's busiest hospitals hopes to change all that.

Department of Home Affairs and Immigration officials have been deployed to an on-site office at Katutura State Hospital in the capital of Windhoek to streamline and improve access to birth certificates, documents that previously would have condemned new mothers to long queues at the department's offices, Dr Rheinhardt Collin Gariseb, the hospital's senior medical superintendent, said.

According to Namibia's latest Demographic and Health Survey in 2006, about 40 percent of Namibian children do not possess birth certificates - a prerequisite for applying for any social grants.

In the past four years the Ministry of Gender Equity and Child Welfare has almost tripled the number of grants available to orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC), but these social safety nets only reach about 30 percent of those in need, according to Matthew Dalling, OVC project officer for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). Often times, whole families can depend on such grants although they may amount to as little as US$25 a month.

Dalling and UNICEF helped facilitate the programme, run as a joint venture between three government departments, and said he hoped it would increase the government's capacity to provide the documentation.

"The bottom line is that if you are not able to access social grants, your access to basic commodities is compromised and this usually means your nutrition is severely comprised," Amon Ngaveten, project coordinator for HIV/AIDS legal advocacy nongovernmental organization, the AIDS Law Unit at Windhoek's Legal Assistance Centre, said.

Ngaveten said undocumented children have been shut out of both the social welfare and the education system, and that it was a problem exacerbated in the regions bordering Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, where teachers refuse to teach children who cannot prove their Namibian citizenship.

Join the queue

Although the majority of Namibian women deliver their babies at hospitals, those having home births in rural areas were more than likely not to register their children, Ngaveten said.

"Sometimes the delivery might happen in the village and after that the mother does not even take the child to be immunized," he said. "As long as there are no circumstances that force them to register their child, some mothers may not even think about it."

But the longer a parent delays in obtaining their child's birth certificates, the more difficult the process becomes.

"It is one of the most problematic documents to obtain, especially if a child has not been registered at birth - it all depends on whether or not the child has his or her parents' identity documents," Ngaveten said.

"Sometimes, one of the parents may have passed away, in which case you need to produce a death certificate that can be problematic (to obtain) as well. Other times, perhaps you have a father from, for instance, Angola who has already returned to his country."

However, if and when a parent or older child has submitted documents in cases like these, they join a birth certificate backlog that the home affairs department has been struggling to reduce since 1990 independence, when many older non-white Namibians first registered, department spokesperson Kauku Hengari told IRIN.

He said it was expected that on-site registration services, like those now available at Katutura, would decrease the backlog and ensure more children had access to state benefits.

The programme will eventually be rolled out to all 34 national health centres, although no time frame has been provided.

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