Participation of children in registration of births : my experience

Participation of childrenPARTICIPATION – My name is Nicolas BOSWANE. I am 17 years old and a pupil at the Collège Notre Dame d’Afrique in the Lemba district (Kinshasa-DRC). I am also the Chairman of the Lemba Local Children’s Committee and 2nd Vice- Chairman of the Kinshasa Provincial Children’s Committee. It is in this capacity that I was invited to the DRC-UNICEF Annual Review on 25 January 2017.

My participation in the retroactive registration of births

I would like to tell you about my first experience at the Congolese Government’s and UNICEF’s Annual Review which was held on 25 January 2017 in the meeting room of Government House (Hôtel du Gouvernement). I was invited by the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children’s Affairs to talk about the involvement of children in participation activities in 2017.

On the Wednesday morning, I first went to school and upon arriving at the meeting room of Government House early in the afternoon, I noticed that I was the only child among dozens of adults. My first observation was that adults stood up and spoke, one after the other, about what they had done for children, in various areas, in 2016. I immediately understood that this was what the Review was all about.

When Mr Gilbert from the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children’s Affairs went to do his presentation, he gave me the opportunity to speak. I decided to share with the audience our experience in the retroactive registration of births and raising awareness about the right to identity.

How everything started

Everything started in January 2016 when 7200 children from organisations and schools from the 24 districts of the city and province of Kinshasa, including myself, were taken in hand by schools and NGOs and trained on the rights of the child and advocacy skills. At the end of the training, we made an unfortunate discovery: the majority of us did not have a birth certificate.

We had to act : participation of children !

After this unfortunate discovery, the government started a project funded by UNICEF to retroactively register all the children who had exceeded the legal deadline for free registration on the civil register (90 days) and to make our family members aware about the importance of the birth certificate.

This project was launched in June 2016 and each of the 7200 children received a number of documents aimed at making our families, neighbours and acquaintances aware about the importance of the right to identity and the birth certificate. For the retroactive registration, each child received two proxies and an identification card for his / her own family.

Thanks to the 1st proxy, our biological siblings under 18 could be registered and thanks to the 2nd, babies younger than 90 days. The proxies were handed over to various family courts in the city of Kinshasa through our mentors.

The long road to the right to identity: pride and obstacles

During this process, we were disappointed by the fact that we could only have our biological siblings under 18 registered while there were many other children in our neighbourhood in the same situation as us.

On the other hand, the time taken for the process to take shape has had as a result that from June until now, the documents have not been issued. In my specific case, in the 6th grade of humanities studies, I had to apply for pre-admission to university in December 2016. This procedure required that I be in possession of a birth certificate. While the process was dragging on, I was forced to obtain the certificate through another channel, which cost more but took less time (less than a week).

Another issue is the fact that too short a time is allowed for the awareness-raising work with families. Just one day is really not enough to be trained by our mentor and then to meet 30 different families to verify and collect the proxies. The time required for interaction between the mentor and the parent as well as the distances between the families were not such as to allow doing the rounds in one day.

Despite hesitation from some parents who were sensitized, they took note and decided to register their children on the civil register. We furthermore had the opportunity to enjoy our right to identity, to take ownership and to exercise our right to participation. This participation implies that the child must be a role-player in the promotion of his / her rights. A proud accomplishment!

Participation, a spirit of teamwork and general interest

At the end of Mr Gilbert’s presentation, some people in the audience asked questions pertaining to my testimony. One man asked me for example how the participation activities could be accommodated in the school programme.

Participation of children

It is a pity that I was not given the opportunity to respond to him myself. However, Mr Gilbert partly answered him as I would have liked to: ‘’the participation activities of children are done during the school holidays and the time for extracurricular activities’’. I could have added that unlike in the case of adults, the children carry out the activities for the well-being of other children without expecting to be paid for this and thus cultivate a spirit of teamwork for general well-being.

Our recommendations for each child in the country:

  • – The implementation of proportionate means that favour the timely finalisation of the process to obtain birth certificates;
  • – Involve more children in the process, by giving them the possibility to register not only their biological siblings but also the other children in their neighbourhoods ;
  • – Increase the number of days for awareness-raising work;
  • – Involve more children in the programming of activities which affect children as well as in the holding of reviews.

Child participation will thus be more and more effective in Kinshasa, a participation which I sum up with these words: ’’By the child, for the child’’.

Photo: UNICEF DRC 2016 Serge Wingi

Translated from French by Elsabé Joubert

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Nicolas est élève finaliste au Collège Notre Dame d’Afrique de Lemba à Kinshasa. Il est également président du Comité d’Enfants de la commune de Lemba et 2e vice-président du Comité Provincial des Enfants à Kinshasa.

Nicolas, final year pupil at the Collège Notre Dame d’Afrique in Lemba (Kinshasa), Chairman of the Lemba Local Children’s Committee and 2nd Vice- Chairman of the Kinshasa Provincial Children’s Committee.

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