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Impact of the universal birth registration campaign

Before the universal birth registration campaign was launched in 2005 

Before the campaign was launched, an estimated 4% of the population were registered, including only 1% of children under five. Figures for the numbers involved were not available.

Following the campaign 

Now, an estimated 62% of the population are registered, including 26% of children under five. In Plan supported districts, an estimated 1,928,790 people are now registered - 924,685 males and 1,002,877 females – as are 731,562 under-fives - 354,845 boys and 376,717 girls.

Government policy and practice on birth registration 

Article 18 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states that: “The state shall register every birth, marriage and death occurring in Uganda.”  This is regulated by the Birth and Death Registration Act of 1970, Cap 309, and implemented by the Office of the Registrar General in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. The law is administered by the Attorney General. It is a mandatory obligation for everyone in Uganda to be registered at birth, and the office of the Registrar General is responsible for ensuring that registration is carried out in all districts in the country. Birth registration records are kept by district registrars and are supposed to be sent to the Office of the Registrar General for the issue of long certificates.  

The legal instruments backing birth registration are, therefore, in place, and the political commitment of government to ensure this is evident. This legal framework is operated through the establishment of institutions necessary for birth registration implementation. The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), an autonomous body responsible for birth and death registration, has been established under the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. A national taskforce - comprising a team from key ministries, government departments and the donor community - was formed to coordinate and harmonise all the birth registration revitalisation initiatives in Uganda.  The revitalisation initiative has now covered up to 54 out of 81 districts. These include 47 UNICEF supported districts (24 previously supported by the GoU-UNICEF Country Programme 2001-05 and 23 currently supported under the GoU-UNICEF CP 2006-10 ), and seven Plan Uganda districts 

Birth registration is now increasingly getting financial support from the justice law and order sector to enable districts that are lagging behind to raise their ability to kickstart the programme, rather than waiting for external support from donor agency. 

Universal birth rights campaign strategy

The overall goal of Plan Uganda’s UBR strategy is to increase the proportion of children whose births are registered. The programme has been complementing the efforts of the government and several development partners. UNICEF is implementing a similar programme in 48 districts and Plan in six districts, giving a total coverage of 54 of Uganda’s 81 districts.

This strategy aims to achieve five key results:

1. increased awareness of the public in general, and birth registration duty-bearers in particular, of the importance of birth, especially as a fundamental right of the child;

2. improved systems and procedures for birth registration;

3. increased capacity for birth registration duty-bearers to perform their assigned duties; 

4. improved provision of materials, equipment and infrastructure required to administer registration;

5. improved links between birth registration and social services relevant to children (immunisation, basic education, special education, orphan care). 

Activities in the UBR campaign follow a national harmonised model of birth registration. Two volunteer duty-bearers/notifiers in each village have been trained and equipped with the instruments to carry out actual registration in their villages. They are provided with bicycles and metallic boxes to collect data and keep the registration materials safe. Registration itself covers all members of households, but short birth certificates are issued only to children aged eight and under. 

Completed registration instruments/materials are passed to sub-county headquarters for filing, and the data from the household register books and the Registrar General’s copy of birth registration forms are entered into computers using software designed by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. There are quarterly updates at village level to enter newborn children and any deaths. The parish chiefs and the parish development committees provide a link between the villages and the sub-counties. The district planning unit and the district implementation team help to monitor progress and provide support supervision periodically.


Policy and legislation changes

    • There was a national consultative workshop with key stakeholders and government officials from 27 districts to review the draft national birth registration policy document and make proposals for amendment to the Birth and Death Registration Act of 1972, with a view of making it relevant to the current practicalities in the country. Altogether, 102 people attended the workshop, including the Deputy Attorney General/State Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. The proposals made during this workshop have now been compiled into a working document awaiting discussion and cabinet approval.   

    Government capacity and practice

      • The national task force developed the national strategy for strengthening birth registration in Uganda, and the programme communication strategy for birth registration in Uganda was drawn up by the government with support from UNICEF and Plan Uganda. The operationalisation of the strategy is currently ongoing.
      • A national birth registration software (VR-MIS) was also developed. Hardware and software were installed and data entry support provided. Data entry has been properly implemented and uniformly completed in most of the districts supported by UNICEF and Plan.
      • Special communication support materials have been developed for each specific target audience with messages that state the problem, solution, action required and the benefits. This is helping in raising awareness.
      • The Uganda Registration Services Bureau has been established with the mandate of coordinating and implementing all birth and death registration activities in the country. This is a major step towards transforming it into a fully-fledged autonomous and self-accounting authority that will ensure effective and efficient registration of births and deaths. 
      • Capacity has been built in training, equipment, materials and infrastructural development for up to 56 UNICEF and Plan supported district to enable them to play their roles in registration implementation effectively and efficiently. The majority of these districts are now able to carry on with the programme as a matter of routine, although some challenges remain.

      Monitoring and ensuring the implementation of policy and legislation related to UBR

        • The national taskforce has developed some monitoring tools used to follow up the implementation of activities from the village level to the national level. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is responsible for organising regular monitoring and evaluation visits to the districts, and these are also used to provide technical support in specific areas identified in the districts during implementation.
        • Plan Uganda has been providing logistical support at district level for the technical teams to conduct regular monitoring and support supervision of activities at sub-county and village levels. 

        Creating incentives to increase the demand for birth registration

          • There has been no clear initiative to provide incentives, although there has been an effort to make birth registration a demand-driven rather than a supply-driven service. This has been mainly through integration into other programmes relevant to children. This is so that people are able to attach a value to birth registration and begin to demand it to attain these services for their children.

          Waiver/reduction of costs

            • Plan Uganda and UNICEF have been providing free short certificates to children up to eight years, while older children and adults are, by law, required to pay Uganda shillings 1,000 and 5,000 for short and long certificates respectively. 

            Partnerships, coordination, cooperation, alliances and coalition:

              • The strongest partner in the UBR campaign has been UNICEF, although some efforts have been made to form a coalition with other child right INGOs in the area of advocacy, especially Save the Children in Uganda and World Vision.

              Community awareness

                • Although there is still a general lack of awareness on the value of registration as a whole, there as been much effort to ensure that communities have an understanding of the value of birth registration as a fundamental right of the child. This has been done through radio messages developed by the national taskforce, birth registration posters, stickers, brochures and through children’s events involving primary school children and children’s radio quizzes.

                Ownership and sustainability (Have the duty-bearers, the state, taken responsibility? How have rights-holders, communities, and civil society been involved to ensure sustainability?

                  • The issues of sustainability and ownership of the programme have not been properly addressed yet since the revitalisation initiative began. The state is putting in place a strong legal framework, the national birth registration policy document, and building the capacity of the relevant institutions for birth registration. Sustainability of the programme is therefore being realised gradually with increased awareness, value attachment as a result of integration, and application of the legal conditions that require one to be registered to be able to access social service and enjoy the benefits provided by the state as a citizen. It will take some time for sustainability to be addressed.  

                  The integration of the issue of birth registration with other programmes, such as maternal health

                    • The six Plan supported districts of Tororo, Butaleja, Nakaseke, Luwero, Kaliro and Kamuli received support towards integration of birth registration into child health plus days held countrywide in October to December 2008. The districts were given fuel to support supervision and deliver immunisation kits to designated parish locations, where birth registration duty bearers converged to register children and issue them with certificates after they have been immunised. Altogether, 2,991 children were registered and 2,142 of them received short birth certificates during the campaign.

                    Registering the most marginalised and hard to reach communities  (ethnic minorities, nomadic groups, orphans, street children, migrants and refugees etc)

                      • The Uganda Registration Services Bureau has been supported by the justice law and order sector to reach the most difficult to reach communities, especially in northern Uganda, through innovative practices in extending the birth registration system to displaced populations. Normal birth registration in these areas was disrupted due to the armed conflict between the Uganda People’s Defence Forces and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels over the last 20 years. The government took steps to combat the crisis by concentrating people into internally displaced people (IDPs) camps as they were forced to leave their homes. This meant that a specific strategy of reaching the IDPs with births registration services had to be designed. 
                      • This system has been operational since 2004 in the different short- and long-term camps of displaced people in northern and armed conflict districts, where camps are divided into blocks of about 200 households for the purpose of birth registration in each block.
                      • Two block leaders/volunteers (one male, one female) have been trained in birth registration issues and processes, ensuring the registration of children and families living in IDP camps.

                      Linking birth registration to other children’s rights, such as increased access to health, education, inheritance rights and protection from trafficking, child labour etc.

                        • Plan Uganda has been actively involved in linking birth registration with other programmes relevant to children, especially under the Legal AID to People affected by HIV and AIDs, where families have been supported to access birth registration services, especially in Kampala and Kamuli programme areas, child health days and universal primary education. Birth certificates are a key requirement for enrolment into primary schools and tertiary institutions.  

                        Involving children in the UBR campaign

                          • The implementation of the UBR campaign in Uganda involves a component on child participation through children’s events and children’s radio quizzes to boost the birth registration mobilisation, communication and advocacy strategy developed by the national taskforce. A selection of primary school children have been mobilised into discussion groups, facilitated by the district probation and welfare office, during which they were given birth registration materials and helped to understand the basic concepts, its importance, the legal provisions embedded in the UN convention and local laws, the implementation structure, and the process of birth registration. 
                          • This solid knowledge of birth registration enabled children, helped by their school teachers, to produce clear birth registration messages in songs, poems and plays for presentation, mostly in the local language, during children’s events. It also made them competent enough to participate in the children’s radio quiz.
                          • On 20 October 2008, Plan Uganda joined a coalition of other international and local organisations, including Save the Children in Uganda, World Vision, Raising Voices, Action for Children and Concerned Parents, to advocate against chid sexual abuse. The coalition organised approximately 200 primary school children who presented a petition to the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Edward Sekandi. The petition called for approval of the proposed amendments to the birth and death registration law and to enforce it as a way of supporting civil society organisations in their fight against child sexual abuse in Uganda, and called on the government to establish a countrywide birth registration programme to back these initiatives. This petition is currently being discussed by the parliamentary committee on children and social affairs.  
                          • The child participation approach in the UBR campaign has provided an avenue for it to receive attention and action where it had been invisible, increasing public awareness and the demand for registration, and enhancing the campaign for revitalisation of birth registration at the grassroots.
                          • The role of Plan has been mainly to facilitate the capacity development of the children and to link them up with key child-centred development partners and relevant district departments to foster a strong relationship for effective advocacy.

                          Any other

                            • Plan Uganda provided support to the government and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau to conduct a study and assess the requirements for improving the ICT infrastructure, data production processes, and data management, analysis and presentation at the central registry. This study was conducted by an ICT consultant and the report was shared with key stakeholders. Its implementation awaits the development and approval of the national strategic plan.

                            Good practice

                            • The community-based birth registration system established in most districts, including the Plan Uganda supported districts, works well in bringing the service closer to the communities. The cost of registration was drastically reduced, as people could access the service without having to travel long distances.
                            • Experience sharing between districts and joint monitoring and evaluation to assess progress and provide technical support opened up channels for experience sharing and learning.
                            • The community-led action and participation in the UBR campaign was a success as the majority of the duty bearers came from the community itself, and people felt very comfortable working with and being registered by their own community members, who could understand and appreciate their values, aspirations and challenges, rather than an unfamiliar outsider. 
                            • Integration of birth registration with the child health days plus campaign, organised by the Ministry of Health, gave strong impetus to UBR because it was easy to mobilise mothers to bring their children to registration centres where immunisation of children was taking place at the same time.
                            • Including children in social mobilisation and advocacy was good practice, as they were able to pass very strong messages to their parents to appreciate birth registration as a fundamental human right. This goes well with the saying that: “the best advocates for children are children themselves.” 

                            Challenges, gaps and barriers

                            • The main challenge has been to create the necessary awareness about birth registration, as most people still do not understand its importance. A communication strategy was developed to address this, and a national birth and death registration communication campaign was launched alongside the national UBR campaign on 16 May 2005 in Luwero district. 
                            • Reliance on volunteers to collect data at the grassroots level is still a challenge because the communities have not yet assumed ownership of the project. It is hoped that, after the revitalisation efforts and awareness creation, volunteers will find it easier to register, as community members will demand the services and look for volunteer duty-bearers to be registered, rather than the present situation where volunteers have to be sought out by the duty- bearers.
                            • Despite the political will, government lacks the resources to implement legislation on birth death registration. This raises the issues of continuity and sustainability once Plan and UNICEF wind up their present support. 
                            • There is no comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system, which has made it difficult to evaluate the programme.
                            • In Uganda, birth registration records are kept by district registrars and are supposed to be sent to the Office of the Registrar General to issue long certificates on a quarterly basis. Unfortunately, because of the poor information technology infrastructure, incompatibility of the data processing and analysis systems, limited support, poor movement and storage of birth registration materials or records, poor data backups and recovery systems, the Office of the Registrar General is not yet ready to handle the large volume of birth registration data currently generated by the districts. This is reflected in the time it takes for a long certificate to be issued. The Central Registry of Births and Deaths is still managed manually and, with the massive data coming in from the districts since the UBR campaign launch in 2005, it is increasingly becoming overwhelmed and unable to process long birth certificates in time.
                            • The issue of long certificates is still centralised and this has made it extremely difficult for poor families, especially those in upcountry districts, to travel to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau in Kampala to have their certificates processed. Most families have acquired only the short certificate, which is a temporary document and not internationally recognised.

                            National level recommendations 

                            • The government should approve the proposed amendment to the Birth and Death Registration Act 1970, CAP 309, so that it becomes relevant to the current situation in Uganda.
                            • Develop a national birth registration policy clearly specifying the roles and responsibilities of government and other stakeholders, with a view to  streamlining registration implementation.  
                            • Develop a national strategic plan for the entire birth registration programme with clear targets, indicators and a specific monitoring plan and structure. This could also mean creation of a monitoring unit with a specific structure, as well as roles and responsibilities, identification of monitoring personnel, training of monitoring personnel, launching of the monitoring exercise (facilities, equipment, and facilitation) and designing/operationalising a monitoring database for reference and informing future aspects of the programme.
                            • There should be increased government commitment to resource allocation to the programme at the national level, which means that we need to step up lobbying and negotiations with the key departments during the planning cycle. 
                            • There is great need for the government to decentralise the issue of long birth certificates, to the regional or district level, so that most poor families in the countryside can access the service.
                            • There is great need to improve the automation and computerisation of the processes involved in the production of information on birth and death registration for planning purposes and distribution of resources from national to the lower level, and to achieve efficiency and integrity of birth and death certificates.

                            Future activities 

                            In June 2009, Plan Uganda and UNICEF were due to participate in a UBR planning workshop for technical officers from all districts in the northern region of the country. This was convened by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau in conjunction with the birth registration national taskforce. The workshop was due to consider progress in implementing the action points developed in Mombasa by Uganda’s delegation to the 2nd Eastern and Southern Africa UBR conference, and to incorporate them into the birth registration work plan.  Some of the issues proposed for future work include:

                            Action points

                            • Holding stakeholders meetings to follow up and update progress on the passing of the proposed amendment to the Birth and Death Registration Act of 1973 by the parliament of Uganda.
                            • Undertaking countrywide social mobilisation and awareness raising campaigns for birth registration using the birth registration national communication kit.
                            • Remobilisation of political will to support the work already being done backed by financial investment, budgetary allocations and good governance.
                            • Reviewing and strengthening birth registration infrastructure with a focus on the role of parish chiefs and other duty bearers at various levels and other key duty bearers.
                            • Lobbying for the decentralisation of the issue of long birth certificates to lower levels.

                            Partnerships and alliance building

                            • Integration and building of synergies among key stakeholders at national, district and sub-county levels. 
                            • Identifying and expanding on the “basket” of stakeholders at various levels, including strengthening the coalition and activities of key international NGOs.

                            Reaching the most difficult to reach

                              • Developing specific strategy focusing on registration of hard-to-reach children, especially in the Karamoja region. This includes: children in children’s homes; street children; nomadic and urban communities in Kampala; and returnees from IDP camps in Northern Uganda. 

                              Cross-cutting issues

                                • Developing and operationalising a five-year birth and death registration national strategic plan with clear targets on documentation, monitoring and evaluation.

                                Do you have any high-profile supporters of Plan’s UBR campaign? 

                                  • Hon Benson Obua Ogwal, Member of Parliament representing Moroto county, Lira district
                                  • Hon Lugwago Nalwanga Rebecca, Woman Member of Parliament, Luwero district, and Chairperson, Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Children 
                                  • Bisereko Kyomuhendo, Registrar General, Uganda Registration Services Bureau
                                  • Henri Nzeyimana, Child Protection Technical Manager, Save the Children in Uganda
                                  • Stephen Katende, Child Rights Advocacy Officer, World Vision - Uganda

                                Campaign fact

                                South Asia is the region with most unregistered children - 64% of births are not registered