Advent a time for Anglicans to engage with birth registration for all

Posted Dec 2, 2011

[International Anglican Family Network] The International Anglican Family Network (IAFN) is using the season of Advent to encourage member Churches of the Communion to get involved with making birth registration a universal reality.

More than just a legal formality, birth registration opens the door to education and healthcare. Without it people may not be able to obtain a passport, own a house or land, or marry.

“In this season of Advent, as Christians everywhere wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Network is calling on Anglican churches to partner with state and other agencies to ensure that babies born in 2012 and beyond are registered”, said IAFN’s Ian Sparks.

“Over one-third of children never have their births registered and so are significantly disadvantaged in their childhood as well as in their adult life. They are officially invisible; in a sense they do not exist. Perhaps one of the worst outcomes of this is that they are easy prey for traffickers.”

One example of this involved Santiago, a twelve-year-old boy from the Philippines who was not registered at birth. He was taken from his family by a man who promised him a vital eye operation in Manila. Instead Santiago was taken to the city and locked in a brothel where he was abused for fifteen years. His parents went to the police and tried to find him but with no success. Members of the Christian organisation Jigsaw Kids Ministries eventually found Santiago begging on the streets. He was half blind and in terrible condition.

In its latest newsletter, IAFN makes clear the problems that can work against birth registration. In some countries such as Papua New Guinea the level of birth registration is low because families have to travel long distances to register a birth. The result is that only 1 per cent of the 260,000 children born each year are registered.

In other countries family disruption contributes to the problem. Pakistan passed its first Registration Act in 1973 and a national identity card is now vital. However, registration can be difficult for orphans, internally displaced and refugee children who have become separated from their parents, and also the children of unmarried parents or parents of different nationalities.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said of birth registration “It is a small paper but it actually establishes who you are and gives access to the rights and privileges, and the obligations of citizenship.”

IAFN is calling on the Anglican Communion worldwide to take a lead in ensuring that all children are registered at birth. Its newsletter highlights that there are already positive signs:

•    Churches in Uganda are encouraging parents at the time of their children’s baptism to register their children.

•    The NGO of the Anglican Diocese of Peru, Comunio?n Peru?, is actively supporting children and adults, including the elderly, to obtain birth certificates and national identity cards where these are missing. Where there are particular problems they consult experts, and often provide transport for families or the state registrar.

•    Baptismal certificates issued by churches in Kenya enable birth registration to take place when there is no other documentation.

•    In sub-Saharan Africa there are high rates of maternal and infant mortality but it is hard to be accurate with the statistics needed for formulating appropriate policies and good practice because the death of mothers and babies not registered at birth are often unrecorded. The Church of the Province of West Africa, along with the Anglican Health Network, is seeking to improve statistic gathering through encouraging birth registration at medical facilities and using mobile phones to help with communications and data recording in remote communities.

•    The Jigsaw Project in the Philippines works with 2,000 vulnerable children in four urban areas and makes their birth registration a priority in giving them safety and security.

•    The Bishop of Southern Malawi, the Rt Revd Dr James Tengatenga proposes that it would be possible to have all children in Malawi registered within 12 months if the under-fives clinics which meet on church premises were enabled to register children.

Meg Gardinier, Director of the Secretariat for the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children, reports that the progress in promoting birth registration in the past decade highlights the crucial role of religious leaders and their ability to engage in partnership with others.

“Clearly the Anglican Communion whose 85 million members are in over 160 countries worldwide has a vital role”, she said.


The full newsletter on birth registration is available on the website of the International Anglican Family Network –  where you can also subscribe to the thrice-yearly newsletter free of charge.