Côte d’Ivoire: Registering births, restoring education

31 October, 2013
2011, Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire: Diomande Noel Berole, 10, holds his birth certificate, outside his school in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire. As many as three out of every 10 births in the West African nation go unregistered. Without birth certificates these children may be refused an education. Credit: UNICEF
2011, Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire: Diomande Noel Berole, 10, holds his birth certificate, outside his school in Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire. As many as three out of every 10 births in the West African nation go unregistered. Without birth certificates these children may be refused an education. Credit: UNICEF

When Aline Gondo’s family tried to enrol her in middle school last year, they were surprised to be turned down. Aline was 16, but too old, the school authorities told her. At that age, she should be graduating from middle school, not starting it.

Aline’s experience is not unique in Côte d’Ivoire. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she is one of the estimated 2.8 million children who were not registered at birth.

Aline’s parents failed to register her birth within the prescribed three months. Although they were able to obtain her birth certificate when she was eight, this delay, combined with a later delay due to conflict, would prove insurmountable.

Three out of every 10 rural births go undeclared

Failure to report births in Côte d’Ivoire has worsened over the past decade due to the conflicts and crises that have plagued the country. When rebels seized control of some northern provinces in September 2002, the bureaucracies in those areas collapsed. During this time, even those parents willing to register their new children were simply unable to.

This pattern repeated in November 2010, when fresh violence threw Government and social services into disarray. As a partial result of this decade of turmoil, as many as three out of 10 rural births go undeclared, compared with only one out of 10 in urban areas.

To address this, the Ivorian Government announced a temporary change to its policies in early 2012. New births that occurred during the 2002 and 2010 violence could be reported directly to the civil registration centres, meaning parents would no longer be required to go to court.

Spreading the message

Humanitarian organizations are helping the Government to spread the word about this temporary amnesty. UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are also working with education authorities and local governments in some areas to offer direct support to families registering their children.

These efforts have helped to record about 70,000 children in the western, central and northern regions of the country.

Registrations are ongoing. UNHCR is supporting Ivorians who have returned from neighbouring countries, such as Liberia, to obtain birth certificates. In Goya, a village in the western province of Moyen-Cavalley, the organization has helped more than 80 people to obtain their identification documents since early 2013.

"We hold community meetings and we show a film to sensitize the population on the importance of identity documents," says Joseph Djitro, who works with UNHCR in Goya. "We explain that children need identity papers for enrolment in school and for examinations. We also inform that adults need documents as well to get a driver's license or to open a bank account."

Progress in declaring unregistered births has been slow. Ivorian education authorities have asked OCHA and other humanitarian actors to reach out to communities and inform them of this opportunity.

One out of four primary students without birth certificates

In addition to easing the conditions of birth declaration, the Government has instructed education authorities throughout the country to stop turning away children who do not have birth certificates.

This change alone has allowed about 750,000 children to enroll in primary school, according to the Ministry of National Education and Technical Education (MENET). This is about one quarter of all enrollees for the past school year.

But children without birth certificates will still face challenges when they try to enrol in middle school, says Jeanne Kopieu, Assistant Director of Education at MENET.

“The absence of birth certificates will prevent the child from having the administrative file to take the exam of the Certificate of Primary Education and the secondary-school entrance examination,” she explains.

The easing of these requirements will end in mid-2014. As a result, education authorities have also asked aid organizations to continue advocating for children to be admitted into school without restrictions while registration issues are finalized.

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