With close to 20 per cent of children unregistered, Myanmar has taken a critical step to fulfill its commitment to universal birth registration for all children up to age 10 born in all parts of the country.
One of the major milestones on the road to universal birth registration in Myanmar was achieved on October 20 with the launch of a revised Manual aimed at simplifying the registration process for births and deaths. Issued by the Ministry of Planning and Finance, with support from UNICEF and in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sports, the new ‘Manual for the Birth and Death Registration System’ is expected to open the door for more children to access their rights to basic social services, such as education, as well as protection.
"To meet the goal of universal birth registration we need to make it easier for people to register births and deaths. So we have removed the late registration fees and made it possible to register all children up to 10 years of age – in the location where they were born, or where they live,” said Kyaw Win, Union Minister for Planning and Finance at the launch event, which took place this week in Naypyidaw. Relevant officials from Union, State and Regions as well as representatives from the international community attended the event, where detailed presentations on the new manual were made.
“This improved registration system will also enable us to obtain more reliable information on births and deaths, which contributes to the setup of the much-needed Civil Registration and Vital Statistics System, enhancing our ability to plan and make critical policy decisions based on reliable data,” said Kyaw Win.
The overhaul of the Manual is part of a wider process to achieve universal birth registration in Myanmar for all children up to age 10 born in all parts of the country, regardless of their parents’ nationality, ethnicity and citizenship status. With support from the European Union, nation-wide campaigns were conducted in 2014 and 2015 to raise awareness about the benefits and procedures of birth registration, and to encourage people to register their children. More than 300,000 under-five children were reached, boosting registration to 82 per cent of children.
Even so, just under 20 per cent of children below the age of five remain unregistered. Differences across the country are stark. While most children in urban areas are registered, few children in remote and hard to reach areas possess a birth certificate. Children of migrants and those who do not live with their parents are the most likely to remain unregistered.
Possessing a birth certificate, will help children to access their rights to health, to enroll in school and to benefit from child protection and social services. Children without a birth certificate are more vulnerable to under-age recruitment into the armed forces, early marriage and trafficking. Later on in life, it may also mean that they are denied chances for higher studies and job opportunities, which often require applicants to provide a birth certificate.
“With this new registration system we trust the upcoming birth registration campaigns in the eight States and Regions not covered previously will be even more successful,” said Dr. Myint Htwe, Union Minister for Health and Sports. “The system will also enable all those involved in registering children to connect the dots and to ensure that any child born in Myanmar automatically has the right to access all social services and other support,” he said.
“It could also help improve the Health Information System and in computing morbidity and mortality rates,” he mentioned.
The roll out of the new procedures to all the States and Regions will take some time and will involve extensive training with basic health staff and other related government officials. This will require further financial investment and critical partnerships.
UNICEF’s Acting Representative to Myanmar, Paul Edwards, explained that universal birth registration is a lifelong investment in every person's potential. “The recording of a child at birth is often referred to as the “first right” of the child, because it establishes his or her existence under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of their human rights,” he said.
The new Manual has been developed under the stewardship of the Government’s Coordination Committee on Birth and Death Registration (CCBDR) and the technical efforts of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Vital Registration (IAWG-VR), bringing several ministries together. It is the result of a long-term effort, initiated in 2014, which involved many technical reviews, as well as field-testing.
“It has been an important and detailed process that has brought many stakeholders together,” said Mr Edwards. “Our experience in other Asian countries has been instrumental and has allowed us to assist with the development of a system which we trust is the first crucial step towards ensuring that no one is left behind.”
UNICEF has been working with the Government and the people of Myanmar since 1950. In partnership with the Government and the civil society, UNICEF’s current focus of work aims at reducing child mortality, improving access and quality of education and protecting children from violence, abuse and exploitation.