Birth registrations are a vital tool for stopping HIV in Eswatini

December 13, 2022
A mother in Nkomiyahlaba, Eswatini listens to a community presentation about the importance of birth registration. Credit: Pact

When Vuyo Dlamini was born, his father was not in the picture. It was just one of the roadblocks that prevented his mother from registering him for a birth certificate. She also couldn’t afford the fee charged by Eswatini’s government. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but as Vuyo grew up, he learned the hard way about how being unregistered adds to a child’s vulnerability.

When he was six, he wasn’t able to register for school because he didn’t have a required personal identification number. While his peers learned to read and enjoyed other public services connected to school, Vuyo spent his days unattended in his neighborhood while his mother worked. It wasn’t until the Insika Ya Kusasa project entered the picture that Vuyo and his mother gained the support they needed to get him registered. A community worker with the project helped Vuyo’s mother understand the importance of birth registration, provided the family with financial assistance to obtain a birth certificate and persuaded Vuyo’s father to come forward for the registration. Now 7, Vuyo is registered and enrolled in first grade.

“I am happy to finally have my birth certificate, as I can access education and other services like other children,” he says.

Vuyo Dlamini with his new birth certificate. Credit: Lusweti Organization

Vuyo is one of more than 5,000 children and adults who have gained birth registration and paperwork with help from the Pact-led Insika Ya Kusasa project. Funded by USAID, the project has worked for the past five years to accelerate Eswatini’s progress toward sustainable HIV epidemic control by preventing new infections and reducing the vulnerability among two key groups: orphans and vulnerable children and adolescent girls and young women.

While it may not seem so on the surface, birth registration is a vital tool for stopping HIV.

“Birth registration is the starting point for recognizing and protecting all of a child’s most basic rights,” says Pact’s Zwakele Dlamini, the technical lead who oversees Insika Ya Kusasa’s work with vulnerable children in Eswatini. “When a child is registered, it means they can go to school and access important health and social services. It lowers their risk for extreme poverty, child marriage for girls and more. All of this connects to their risk for HIV.”

Birth registration refers to the official recording of a child's existence by a country’s government. The global community recognizes that every child has the right to be registered at birth by the state, equipping them to exercise basic rights to education, health care, social assistance, inheritance and more. Registration is especially important for vulnerable children, who face various unique vulnerabilities and often need support interventions to thrive.

In adulthood, being unregistered can prevent people from buying property, voting, getting married and obtaining citizenship for their own children. The registration of births also enables countries to plan on a larger scale for the services their citizens need. Pact supports Eswatini’s goal to achieve universal civil registration of births, deaths, marriages and other vital events, as well as access to legal proof of registration for all individuals by 2030.

In Eswatini, many parents are unaware of the importance of birth registration, or they lack the means to access registration.

With its local partners, Insika Ya Kusasa works both to promote birth registration so caregivers understand its importance, and to assist families to obtain birth certificates and national IDs for those who don’t have them. Pact and its partners support the government to hold mass registration events close to communities and to offer a mobile office for civil registrations, making registration much more accessible. Pact provides transportation for community members to registration events, as well as materials including printers, photocopiers and certificate paper.

"Registering a child’s birth is one of the most important forms of protection a parent or caregiver can give their child. Every child deserves a sense of identity, a state to belong to and social security networks that protect them from significant disadvantage associated with statelessness."

Nosipho Storer, Pact's Eswatini country director

Nkosinathi Zwane, the civil registration assistant regional registrar in Manzini, Eswatini, addresses families about the importance of birth registration. Credit: Pact

“Providing these services closer home has helped me register my child,” says the mother of a 4-year-old girl who attended a registration event in Nkomiyahlaba. “I was unable to travel to register her because I don’t have time. I work in one of the garment factories in Matsapha.”

Insika Ya Kusasa also works household by household to reach those who are unregistered. Families who are enrolled in the project receive a range of services to reduce their vulnerability to HIV, facilitated by Insika Ya Kusasa home visitors. Home visitors identify people without national identification numbers and continuously engage with them during regular visits to provide the support they need to obtain registration, especially for children. This may include bus fare to civil registration offices, assistance in covering the cost of birth certificates, or legal support for complicated cases involving family conflict, uncertain or contested paternity, or unregistered parents or caregivers.

Insika Ya Kusasa’s strategies for increasing birth registrations have been effective, Dlamini says. Since the start of the project, Insika Ya Kusasa has helped 5,670 people to become registered, including 5,543 with birth certificates and 127 with national identification cards. 

“We see it paying off especially when children are able to begin attending school,” Dlamini says. “Education is truly life-changing.”

That has been the case for Andile, a six-year-old girl from Maplotini who recently became registered with support from Insika Ya Kusasa. Andile is being raised by her HIV-positive grandmother. With no income, there was no way the family could pay for registration on their own, so Andile was unable to start school as expected.

A home visitor helped Andile’s grandmother to begin generating income for the family, and assisted her with Andile’s registration. Today, Andile is thrilled to be attending school like her friends.