By Arianna Ranuschio
The first week of December saw the realization of the National Child Health Week, organized by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice, with the support of several donors including UNICEF. Throughout the week, children and women had access to five fundamental services: birth registration, measles vaccination, provision of Vitamin A, provision of Mebendazol, and family planning.
For the 3rd consecutive National Child Health Week, free birth registration was offered to children five years of age and under. According to Mozambican law, birth registration is a free service only within 120 days of birth, after which, a penalty of 50 meticais is levied. Evidence reveals that Mozambican families often choose a child’s name after the 120 day free registration limit, therefore, the National Child Health Week was a great occasion for the free registration of children whose parents, either missed the legal deadline, or were deterred from later registration due to the fee.
Multiple campaign goals were reached: (1) the registration of 265,000 children; (2) the reaching out to children born in less accessible, rural areas through the deployment of 2.000 brigadas moveis; and (3) the consolidation of the links between birth registration and health. Registration officers affirmed that the numbers were much higher than expected. During the whole week, mothers patiently waited in line for several hours in order to have their children registered. This suggests that Mozambicans are becoming more aware of the importance of birth registration.
Unfortunately, paternal participation was again very limited, and in some cases, amounted to an obstacle to registration. In fact, Mozambican law requires the father to be present in order to register the child under the name of both parents, unless the couple is legally married. However, legal marriage is an uncommon phenomenon, especially in rural areas. In case of the father’s absence on the day of registration and lack of a document demonstrating marriage, the mother may still register the child exclusively under her own name. Several unmarried women renounced free registration due to the inability to add the father’s name in his absence. They claimed that by registering the child exclusively under their name, they would encounter problems with the father, such as the father not accepting to recognize the child and not taking responsibility for the child. Some other women, like Benilde and Fatima from Bagamoio, decided to register their children without the father’s name. “I want my child to go to school, I want my child to have rights”.
Birth registration is a fundamental right to identity that provides children with access to other rights such as education, social welfare, health, suffrage, as well as inheritance and property rights. Despite some remaining challenges needing to be addressed, Mozambique demonstrated during the 2013 National Child Health Week that it is on the right track to providing every child with the essential right of birth registration.