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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Modernizing Birth Registration with Mobile Technology

As part of our mobiles for outreach and data gathering training last week, we went out to a community about 20 minutes away from the hotel today to hear Silla, the district civil registrar, talk about a project that Plan Kenya is supporting that aims to modernize the birth registration process. Plan Kenya is looking incorporating mobile data gathering and outreach into the project, so it was a good opportunity to test data gathering. We tested the Nokia Data Gathering Software using a form that the team had created earlier in the week based on the paper forms that the District Registrars office uses. It all worked just fine. Photo: Silas from Kwale District, and Petri, Director of the Nokia Research Center in Manaus, Brazil.


Silla is really an expert on birth registration and anything that has to do with it. He can quote you just about any law related to the subject in great detail. Currently, for registering births, people have to go to the sub-registrar/assistant chief’s office which can be quite far. Once there, sometimes there are not enough actual registration forms and they just give the registration information to someone who writes it in a school notebook. Later when they have more forms, the information is transposed to the official form, and sent along for processing. It can take awhile for processing, and people have to return to the sub-registrar’s office personally if they want to find out if it’s ready. The district is quite large, so they may have to travel up to 100 kms sometimes to go into check, and the certificate may not even be ready yet. Photo: Silla schools us on civil registration and explains why the district wants to modernize the process.

I talked to Ali M and Ali K (‘the Ali’s’ as we call them, since they are pretty much inseparable) who both work with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that are participating in the birth registration project. (They were both at the video training with me last month here also). They explained some of the main reasons that not having a birth certificate makes life difficult:

If children don’t have birth certificates, they cannot get passports obviously, but that is the least of the issues. They cannot attend secondary school without one, nor can they benefit from any type of social service or insurance. Kwale district has a very high incidence of child marriages, yet if there is no birth certificate there is no way to prove in court that a girl is too young to be married. Other kinds of abuse also cannot be proved as child abuse. Without proper registration, the district does not get its fair share of the national budget because it’s not clear how many people are actually there. Photo: Ali K and Ali M - real leaders and innovators in community development.

As the Ali’s explained, if Kwale District is successful in incorporating SMS’s, mobile data gathering, and mobile outreach into the birth registration process, not only will they be the first district in Kenya to do it, but Kwale will be the first to even computerize the birth registration process. A couple ways they want to use mobiles are to provide a phone number that people could SMS their registration number to and find out if their certificates are ready or not, thus avoiding a long trip into the district office for nothing. They are also thinking of shifting the actual data gathering from hand written (carbon paper with several copies) to mobile data gathering and computerized data storage. In any case, a full project is being developed and piloted that will automate much of the current time consuming processes.

I remember when I lived in El Salvador and the municipality changed from hand written logs to computers. You used to have to go really early in the morning and wait in a huge line to get a number. Then you waited again till they called your number, went up and gave someone your information. That person would give your information to someone else who would look up the name/date, etc. and after an hour or 2, they’d call you and give you a little piece of paper with your record number on it. From there you would go wait in the cashier line to pay a fee for the copy of the certificate. Then you would go to another line at another window and give that number to someone else and sit down again for another few hours while that person would go into the archives books (bound books of hundreds of records) and find your certificate for you (birth, death, marriage, etc.). They’d make a copy and then it had to go to an official somewhere to authorize the copy before they’d give it to you. So basically you had to get there around 7 a.m. if you wanted to get it the same day, and it was a whole day affair.

Around 2000, they got a computer system in and modernized the process. I went in to get a copy of a document, and I clearly remember the security guard laughing at me because I looked at the certificate twice in shock when I paid my fee and was handed the actual certificate after about 30 minutes.


If the Ali’s and the Kwale District are able to get the equipment and set the project up, it could mean huge time savings for people and translate into greatly increased numbers of parents getting birth certificates for their children. The Ali’s have already taken the idea to a national level meeting and have other districts interested in their idea. Hopefully Kwale pulls it off and the model can be nationalized once any kinks are worked out! Photo: Mwenda and Ali, Kwale district CBO members.

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