Imagine if you didn’t exist. No, it’s not a paradox. For millions of children around the world – including in Sierra Leone – their births were never recorded. Technically, they don’t exist. They’re invisible to their own governments.
Sierra Leone is highly rural. Most live in small, hard to access villages, where there is no government birth registration.
Babies are only registered when born in government run hospitals in cities and a few district capital towns.
Most rural babies are born at home, or maybe in a small government health clinic without authority to register births.
Parents can later apply for a birth certificate, but will cost money they don’t have.
Bumpeh Chiefdom is changing this scenario with its own system to record births managed by CCET-SL
Paramount Chief Charles Caulker set up recorders to regularly collect birth and death records in every section of the chiefdom.
Birth rights are important in Sierra Leone where most earn their livelihood by farming. Land is not personally owned. It can’t be bought and sold. It belongs communally to a chiefdom. You receive rights to use family assigned land – if you can prove your place of birth and that of your parents.
Birth registration also establishes citizenship, and access to critical services, like free health care for newborn mothers and children under five.
With no public transportation system, traveling to remote villages was initially a problem for the new birth recorders. Some cover 18 villages miles apart.
Now the recorders ride – thanks to a global grant from the Rotary International Foundation and 7 Rotary Clubs, led by the Ann Arbor Club.
Rotary Clubs funded bicycles for 13 chiefdom recorders and their training workshop. They also paid for printing affidavits signed by the chief for the estimated 1200 babies born in a year. Parents can use this official record to obtain their baby’s legal birth certificate.
The chiefdom cooperates with the government to collect information needed to secure government birth certificates for newborns.
The head government health representative, the Community Health Officer (CHO), helped train the birth and death recorders on required information.
Left, CCET Executive Director Rosaline Kaimbay and CHO Alicious Brewa conducted birth recorder training.
Now the birth recorders can cover the entire chiefdom and newborns are not “lost.” Babies are also enrolled in the chiefdom’s program for families to grow “baby trees” – fruit trees that can help feed the family and earn extra income. More on that in another post.