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Right to Identity: Behind the scenes

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Arriving in Tanzania is like stepping into the warm embrace of Africa, greeted with the words “Karibu”  – meaning welcome – we set out to capture the ever-changing face of Tanzania, rising with a technology boom.

We were commissioned by the Millicom Foundation to explore how technology is being used to positively impact peoples lives – and to focus on the first fundamental right of all human beings: identity.

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A birth certificate is the first recognition of your identity. It means that you are being counted, you are recognised by your government and therefore – officially – you exist.

However, we discovered that Tanzania has one of the lowest levels of birth registration in Africa. We learned that information was not being centralised, which means that there were no reliable records of who was registered, and in most cases, no records at all. Statistics show that only 8% of children in Tanzania carry a birth certificate

Mobile technology, provided by Tigo Tanzania, is being used to leapfrog failing infrastructure and logistical challenges, that have left years and years of backlog in birth registrations. The mobile phone allows for information to be recorded and sent to a central database in Dar Es Salaam in real time. The initiative was named the Under 5 Birth Registration Initiative, and the pilot project was set up in the Mbeya region, which has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in the country.

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We arrived in the outskirts of Mbeya, surrounded by a lush, green landscape. The bustling town centre, lies on an important trade route between Zambia and Tanzania, and the streets are filled with trucks, rickshaws and motorbikes, as baskets of bananas and mangoes float between the traffic, balancing on the heads of traders.

We started our mission at the Kiwanda Mpaka Health Centre, situated in the centre of Mbeya. We joined the queue of women, with babies strapped to their backs, who were waiting to meet with a nurse to register their children and receive a birth certificate. There is an inherent understanding that a birth certificate is valuable. Mothers may not be able to predict how the certificate will benefit their child, however they want to secure the best future possible for their children, which means gaining access to basic services, such as education and health.

Each woman waits patiently for her turn to see the nurse, who has been trained to register and issue birth certificates. The nurse records all the details of the child, and then writes out a hand written birth certificate, which is given to the mother; the information is keyed into a mobile phone, which is then sent via sms to the central database.

We also realised that there are a lot of situations in which a child may “fall through the gaps” of the system, because their circumstances do not give them access to being registered members of society. We visited a school in the suburbs of Mbeya, run by an NGO called Child Support Tanzania. The school caters for able students, as well as physically and mentally disabled children.

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We followed as a disabled child was carried to the registration office, his mother determined to register her son. Although her two youngest children both had birth certificates, the challenges and stigma of a disabled child never afforded her the opportunity to register her first born child.

A birth certificate carries with it the hope of a better future. It transcends your place of birth, your wealth, your ability, and most importantly – it is the right of every child to an identity.

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