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A special day for Malti
" It’s a special day for Malti; she’s wearing her best dress and ready to go. The 7 year old’s daily wage labourer parents are out to work. "

By Srabani Guha

It’s a special day for Malti; she’s wearing her best dress and ready to go. The 7 year old’s daily wage labourer parents are out to work.  Malti is going to the Anganwadi centre with her grandmother, the government child care centre near her village. Malti is a bright child but does not go to school.  She remains silent and observes everything that goes on around her. She notices the many well dressed people and the Anganwadi “didi” (lady in-charge of child care center) talking about “Janma Panjikaran” (the local word for Birth Registration).  Malti wonders what this complex sounding word means. Malti notices the poster on the wall where a little girl like her is holding up a piece of paper and saying something.  She looks at her grandmother questioningly.

The official looking men explain that birth registration is a process of letting the government know that a child is born so that the child can utilize all education and health services in the village and its neighborhood while growing up.  Malti is going to get her ‘panjikaran’ done and will obtain a certificate with her name written on it – the first in her family with a Birth Certificate and then she will be off to school – her passport to the world outside.  The problem is a lack of awareness both amongst parents as well as service providers about the need for a birth certificate. 

Suddenly, for Malti, things seem to fall in place – there isn’t a school in her village because the government does not know that she or her friends exist; in fact, only a few of her friends attend school and she has to walk quite a bit to get to the nearest doctor.

At present, only 78 percent of newborns in Orissa are registered each year but since the opportunity cost is neither understood nor appreciated by the parents or government service providers, certification happens to only one-tenth of the newborns. 

The government’s response has been in the classic “campaign mode” whereby attempts are made to issue certificates to those whose names have already been registered, leaving out children who are born but not registered.

UNICEF plays a supportive role both on the demand as well as supply side. UNICEF developed a strategy paper on Civil Registration System in Orissa with the State Government to facilitate preparation of a District Plan of Action to strengthen the Civil Registration System.  A State level Annual review of Civil Registration System was organized after a gap of 4 years. Important resolutions on simplification & decentralization, budgetary support, skill building and public awareness were adopted and followed up through onsite discussion in open forums, student rallies, capacity building of service providers and the local self governance representatives. UNICEF works in partnerships with civil society organizations in its birth registration initiatives.

The result of these efforts has been that the certification rate in 5 of UNICEF intervention districts has increased substantially.

UNICEF advocacy has resulted in easing the supply situation, with the Government procuring 300,000 blank certificates. The Government has increased the budgetary provision 4 – fold from Rs.93, 000/- in 2005-06 to Rs.400, 000 in 2006-07.

For 100 percent registration and certification of births, and ensuring the right of a child to a legal identity, there is a need for a decentralized and simple system which gives easy access to communities. UNICEF is advocating for a decentralized system with more registrars at the block level and new registrars at the village level so that all children of Orissa are registered and are with Birth Certificates.

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