The government has failed in achieving its target of ensuring registration within 45 days of every childbirth, with a staggering 98.24% remaining unregistered over the last three years.
As is the case with most other similar projects, lack of public awareness because of little publicity measures, insincerity of government officials and technological difficulties have held back the birth registration project.
Professionals say a healthy percentage of child registration can also be immensely helpful in determining the number of infant mortality. This is particularly important for a country like Bangladesh that has been globally lauded for achieving tremendous progress in reducing child mortality – a key component of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.
An official count shows that out of a total of over 10.9 million infants born from September 2011 to September 2014, only 83,020 have been registered within 45 days of birth.
The absence of a birth certificate – an important document of identity provided at the time of registration – may result in complications at times of issuance of passport and trade license, marriage, employment, school, college and university admission, and so on.
However, following poor figures in 2011, 2012 and 2013, a recent initiative by the government has boosted the number of childbirth registration over the last three months which can also be done over the internet.
According to AKM Saiful Islam Chowdhury, project director of the Birth and Death Registration Project, there is not enough fund for conducting the publicity campaigns needed for raising mass awareness. As a way out, in July this year, the Health Ministry decided to employ the workers of the Expanded Immunisation Programme (EPI).
The government’s EPI has been a success over the years and the workers get the chance to come in close contact with millions of parents from across the country who bring their infants for immunisation. Therefore, the ministry has asked the EPI workers to remind the parents to do the registration as soon as possible after childbirth.
The number 45 is important because in Bangladesh, most infant deaths occur within 28 days of birth. Therefore, registration within 45 days of birth can help in determining the actual rate of child mortality or morbidity.
That initiative has instantly bred some results, with a total of 15,047 births registered in three months from July-September compared to a little over 24,000 in the first six months of this year, marking a 1.76% rise. A total of over 2.2 million babies were born from January 1 to September 21 this year.
The EPI workers administer several dosages of immunisation on an infant against various kinds of diseases in the successive weeks after birth.
Seeking anonymity, an official said apart from the lack of public awareness, there were several others reasons behind the low rate of birth registration in the country.
He also said many registrars are not comfortable with information and communication technology tools, resulting in reluctance in giving inputs on the computer.
Moreover, slow internet speed, especially in the peripheral areas and absence of uninterrupted electricity has impeded the success of the online birth registration system.
Anyone can apply for birth registration either by physically collecting a relevant form from the local registrar offices or the website of the Birth and Death Registration Project under the LGRD Ministry.
Union parishad chairmen, municipality or city corporation mayor or councillor or any other officer authorised by the mayor, CEO of Cantonment Board and any officer authorised by the embassy can register birth and death dates of any person in the country, upon submission of a fully filled-up printed copy of the form.
A person under the age of 18 does not have to pay any fee for registering. Those above 18 will have to pay a fee Tk50.
Project Director Saiful Islam Chowdhury said: “Although we are behind the target of ensuring registration for every childbirth, I must say we have had tremendous achievement in this project.”
He informed that almost all the citizens of the country had completed their registration, the data about two-thirds of the countries total population had already been entered in an online database. “On an average, data about 100,000 to 150,000 people is being stored online every day.”
He also said: “The relevant bill was amended last year. In that bill, there is a provision for a registrar general’s office. If we get that office, we will have our own budget and then we will also be able to bring pace in the project through publicity campaigns.”
He expressed hopes about being able to reach the 100% birth registration target within two years.