Ensuring every child is accounted for and no one is left behind in Ethiopia

By Hannah Godefa

On August 6th, I was fortunate to be a part of a campaign in Ethiopia when the establishment of the Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA) kicked off throughout the country.

VERA is an incredibly important institution for individuals, societies and government. For individuals, registration can be used as legal documents and proof for identification purposes. Information complied from these areas are then needed for admin applications like public health programmes and the electoral roll.

On the first day of the campaign, I visited the Gulele Sub City, Woreda 9 VERA team. UNICEF supports the campaign to ensure all resources needed for registration like registry, certificates, awareness creation, materials and logistics make it to all regions, all the way to the lowest levels of administration.

Vital events registration kicks off in Ethiopia

This process is incredibly important because it will ensure that every child will be accounted from the earliest days of life. This means big advancements for accountability when it comes to harmful traditional practices including child marriage, as every individual will have a marriage certificate with the new system from VERA. It will also make it easier for government, non-profit and civil society partners to identify when these practices are occurring.

Birth registration is the first recognition of a child’s existence by the state. Where births remain unregistered, there is an implication that these children are not recognized as persons before the law. The absence of the system of birth registration results in the violation of children’s rights to name and nationality; to protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including early marriage, child labour  and trafficking; to basic social services, including education and health; and the personal rights of orphans and other vulnerable children.

Currently, birth, death, marriage and divorce will be kept recorded from the kebele civil status office to the federal level, so that there is less room for discrepancies and human rights crime.

Participating in the registration process was an incredibly humbling and powerful experience for me, and I am very excited to see how UNICEF will work with VERA and local partners to ensure that every child is accounted for, and no one is left behind.

Essence of vital events registration: Ethiopia established Vital Events Registration Agency

The Ethiopian Herald

Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, makes a speech at the National Conference on Vital Events Registration
Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, makes a speech at the National Conference on Vital Events Registration

Pursuant to a proclamation on the registration of vital events and national identity card (Proclamation No. 760/2004), the government has decided to establish Vital Events Registration Agency by the decision of Council of Ministers, Regulation No. 278/2005, which is accountable to the Ministry of Justice. The proclamation indicates that establishing a system of registration of vital events plays a key role in planning political, social and economic developments, in providing various social and economic services to citizens and in making the justice administration expedient and effective.

To this effect, available sources show that registration and records of vital events are intended primarily as legal documents of direct interest to the person concerned. From those official records, evidentiary proof of the occurrence of a vital event and its characteristics can be made by a civil registrar or any other designated authority. Each certificate constitutes testimony of the particulars set forth therein in all courts of law and public offices. There is a wide variety of circumstances, legal and administrative, for which a certified copy of the legal record of live birth, fetal death, death, marriage and divorce is usually required. Fetal deaths, however, are mostly recorded for statistical purposes rather than for legal purposes.

United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative Dr. Peter Salama said that civil registration is not just about identity cards- it is rather a pre- requisite for measuring equity monitoring trends and evaluating impact and outcomes of broader development programmes, such as the MDGs and the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

“While some progress has been made, there is still an enormous gap in registering vital events especially birth registration. According to the Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey of 2005, birth registration of children under the age of five was around 7 per cent, meaning that 9 out of 10 Ethiopian children remain unregistered,” said Dr. Peter.

As this crucial task is embarked on, Dr. Peter emphasized on three key points. First, birth registered is every child’s right. As stipulated in Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of Child: “every child has the right to be registered at birth without discrimination.” Birth registration, was recognized as central to ensuring children’s right— rights to name, identity and nationality. Ethiopia was among the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However, with no proof of age or identity, Ethiopian children and young people may be seen as attractive ‘commodities’ and subject to child trafficking across the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf. Nor will they have even the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour or detention and prosecution as an adult. Read more

Also read full speech by Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia at the event.