The difference a birth certificate makes

By Maureen Siele, ChildFund Kenya
Photo: Five-year-old Akinyi, seven-year-old Ochieng and their mother Catherine now have full access to their civil rights, after obtaining birth certificates

Photo: Five-year-old Akinyi, seven-year-old Ochieng and their mother Catherine now have full access to their civil rights after obtaining birth certificates

A birth certificate is a lifelong passport to many rights. Without it, a person cannot access public education, healthcare, and even legal systems.

In Kenya, a child without a birth certificate can't be admitted to a public school, or register for the national exams needed for admission to secondary school and university. As unregistered children grow into adults, they find they cannot legally marry, own certain types of property, access the banking system and formal labour market, or even vote.

Between 2011 and 2015, ChildFund helped over 77,000 vulnerable children in Kenya’s coastal region and Nairobi to obtain birth certificates, giving them lifelong access to their civil rights.

Two of these children, five-year-old Akinyi and seven-year-old Ochieng, live in Nairobi with their mother Catherine, who lost her own parents when she was just 15. Catherine earns a living by doing irregular jobs, including washing clothes for her neighbours. Before she and her children received their birth certificates, it was impossible for Catherine to access various government services on their behalf, such as a cash transfer program for children made vulnerable by poverty, or HIV and AIDS.

“I have no living parents and, to apply for the monthly government cash transfer program for orphans, I needed my birth certificate and those of my children to prove that we are in need,” says Catherine.

She adds: “I did not have any money to apply for birth certificates, but with ChildFund’s assistance we were able to get the papers. I used them to apply for the cash transfer program, and now I get 2,000 Kenyan shillings (US$19) a month, which I mainly use to buy food and other basic items for my family.”

Statistics indicate that only half of all Kenyan children have birth certificates. The reasons for this are many, and include the lengthy application process and inability to travel to registration offices, but a lack of money to pay the application fees is the major issue for many families.

“Before I got these certificates, my daughter could not join a government school, and I struggled to pay school fees for a lower-end private school. When I received Akinyi’s birth certificate, she was finally able to enrol at a government school. I can also now apply for government medical insurance for my family through the National Health Insurance Fund,” says Catherine.

Now, with a single piece of paper in their possession, Catherine, Akinyi and Ochieng have access to more support and opportunities than ever before, which means a brighter future ahead.

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