Kenyans get birth certificates despite obstacles
April 9, 2012
Although obtaining a birth certificate may sound simple, the task can present quite a challenge in Kenya.
Millicent worked hard to acquire birth certificates for her children
Robert, left, and Ben, right, both sponsored through CFCA.
Millicent is the 28-year-old mother of three children, two of whom are in CFCA's Hope for a Family sponsorship program in Kenya. It took her seven months to acquire birth certificates for just two of her three children.
"It was a lengthy process and quite tiring," she said.
Understanding the process
Birth certificates are important documents in establishing one's public identity.
Schools require birth certificates for taking examinations. The CFCA sponsorship program in Kenya also requires sponsored children to have birth certificates so their families can open bank accounts to receive sponsorship benefits. Because these children are under 18, their mothers manage these accounts under the supervision of CFCA staff until the children are of age.
In Kenya, a mother may apply for her child's birth certificate after receiving notification from the hospital where the birth took place.
Many families in the sponsorship program, however, cannot afford to deliver their children in hospitals. There is no one to notify the government when the birth occurs at home, and many of these children end up without a birth certificate.
Obtaining a birth certificate can take anywhere from a few days to several months.
Crispus Natala is a CFCA staff member in Kenya. He works with mothers participating in the sponsorship program and encourages them to obtain birth certificates for their children.
Through working to obtain these birth certificates, the mothers are empowered as they are given responsibility to achieve their goals, he said.
“If you entrust the mothers with a task, they can surely do it. Although many are illiterate or have left school, if you empower them they can go forth and fulfill the task,” Natala said.
Millicent had her sons at home because she could not afford to give birth at the local hospital.
From left are Crispus Natala, CFCA staff member in Kenya,
To obtain birth certificates for her children, Millicent started with the district officer, who gave her instructions of what forms she needed to complete and take to her area chief.
“Getting a hold of the area chief to sign and to fill out the form for me was a hassle. It took me a week to get to him," Millicent said. "I then had to take back the form to the district office, and it’s quite a distance from where I live."
The district office was only open on certain days, which made the task even more difficult.
"The staff at CFCA kept on encouraging me not to give up because they could see that I was getting frustrated," Millicent said.
Millicent made several trips to the district office, often leaving frustrated and discouraged. Many times she would arrive only to discover that the office had lost the previous forms she completed.
Once she obtained the birth certificates seven months after she began the process, Millicent was able to open bank accounts for her sponsored children.
Dreams for a better future
After Millicent’s arduous task, she borrowed money from her CFCA mothers group to open a fish-selling business. Mothers of sponsored children form groups that give members mutual support and access to small loans. In a culture that does not often recognize the wisdom or contribution of women, it can be difficult to feel a sense of value or self-worth.
Through the CFCA mothers groups, women have the opportunity to save money and borrow loans from these savings. Through these loans, mothers can start their own businesses. The mothers groups have given many women a sense of accomplishment as well as increased self-confidence.
"CFCA has really helped me, especially in educating my two boys," Millicent said. "I doubt if we would have been able to see them through school because we live on a minimal income."
Millicent is also grateful for the birth certificates that will allow her children to be registered when they take school exams.
"My dream is to see my children prosper in life," she said.