More than five million people in Burkina Faso, mostly women and children, are expected to receive free birth certificates as part of a one-year, US$5-million government programme.
“A birth certificate is tremendously important because it testifies to the legal existence of the individual,” André Dembélé, the head of the government’s committee on birth certificates, told IRIN. He said the committee has asked “husbands to allow their wives to return to their birth villages” in order to be documented.
It is difficult to enforce laws against child trafficking, marriage and labour without proof of age, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “If the child has no proof of age, it is very easy she be [more easily] given in marriage,” said Sylvana Nzirorea, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Burkina Faso. She told IRIN girls are married as early as 10 years old in the region.
|It testifies to the legal existence of the individual|
While she said it will take much more than legal documents to curb a long-standing tradition, Nzirorea said certificates are a starting point. “Improved enforcement of standing laws is needed [to fight child marriage], and birth certificates are one measure that will help,” Nzirorea told IRIN.
She said legal identification will also help officials enforce anti-trafficking laws th at prevent children who are travelling without their parents from leaving Burkina Faso.
Certificates are also required to attend school and to receive other government-funded services. Some three million children, 60 percent of whom are girls, were not listed in civil registries, according to the 2006 census.
The government’s Dembélé said certificates are “a basic human right” and important in estimating a community’s social service needs.
He told IRIN that because of the prominence given to men to pursue education and work, especially in conservative Muslim areas, females tend to be the last to receive legal documentation.
In Burkina Faso families have 60 days following a birth to apply for a certificate, but the $1 cost discourages the poorest, according to the government. Though the cost was cut in half two years ago, Désiré Ilboudo, a father of four, told IRIN it was still unaffordable for him to get birth certificates for his wife and children.
|3 million children not listed in civil registries|
|Source: 2006 Burkina Faso census|
“We [families with members who lack documentation] welcome this measure that provides free birth certificates”, said Ilboudo, who has an identity card. “We faced police harassment when we travelled because neither our children nor our wives had birth certificates and ID cards.”
He said the expense and time of finding two witnesses to testify that his family me mbers were born in Burkina Faso had discouraged him from applying.
The government has pledged to make available its employees, including justice department staff, to deliver birth certificates to even the remotest villages and to speed up the process.
The national committee has issued a guide and typewriters to local authorities to create the birth certificates with the support of UNICEF, the Rome-based Community of Saint Egidio and the NGO Plan International.
Plan International has equipped civil registry offices in eight provinces to create the certificates as part of its $200,000 support for the national identification campaign. The NGO has provided birth certificates to 250,000 children since 2004, according to Paul Doyigbé, who heads the NGO’s work on the documents.
“Today there is such an awareness within the communities over the birth certificate issue and there is [such] a high demand for the document that we could [not meet it] due to limited resources,” Doyigbé told IRIN.
The government’s birth certificate initiative is fully financed, all equipment has been purchased and materials will soon be distributed nationwide, according to the national committee’s Dembélé.