Marlon, a jovial 16 –year-old, smiles as he picks up his birth certificate after filing in his late registration form as he will now be “somebody”. His name is his “trademark” as big and global as the soft drink that he is sipping. He feels that his identity is now in his hands and his nationality will no longer be questioned for he is a proud son of the soil; a Belizean! He is the first of six children who today will get their birth certificates. His mother had tried in other occasions to obtain their birth certificates but several factors had delayed the process. When Marlon found out that it was not only his siblings that were unregistered but that thousands of children were in his same situation, he decided to help out in the registration campaign to ensure that they too counted.
“I did not know that I was not registered, until I had to take the Caribbean Examination Council exams and I needed to show my birth certificate to get a scholarship and I had none. Most of my classmates had theirs so I wondered why didn’t my parents bother to register me. Did they not care? I knew that my father was no longer with us and had not been since I was a baby so I do not even know him and I knew I cannot rely on him as my mother had tried because she wanted me to not only to bear her surname but also his. After all he was my ‘father’.”
Marlon’s life will no longer be the same after receiving his birth certificate through the Make Your Child Count Campaign that is supported by UNICEF and partners including Government of Belize, Ministry of Health, Vital Statistics Unit, Belize Social Security, National Committees for Families and Children, Toledo Program for Children and Adolescents, POWA, Organization of American States, and Special Envoy for Women and Children.
This birth registration campaign is promulgating the message that birth registration is the first step in recognizing the basic right that each country can provide to its citizens after birth and it is a fundamental right of each child. In Belize, thousands of children like Marlon are still going through life without proper food, education, or even a name or identity. Like Marlon they are non-existent within the legal system and are easily forgotten. They are denied access to essential social services because they do not have proof of birth so Marlon, an adolescent who is now ready to gain knowledge and skills to take him into adulthood was not able to sign up to take the school examination he needed but today Marlon can.
While Belize has made some progress on birth registration in recent years, thousands of “With this birth certificate, I will no longer be confused about who I am, nor will I have to struggle to know who I am. Something as simple as my name on legal documents makes me feel that I do count and that I, too, have talents, a voice and a desire to be a productive person to contribute to the development of my country. I too, want to participate as a citizen of Belize so I showed up to help registered unregistered children.
Marlon showed up with anticipation to help the campaigners in the communities because he wanted to be a part of ensuring that every child in Belize is registered regardless why they had not been registered. Since rural children are less likely to be registered than their urban counterparts, he helped distribute many fliers to all those people who needed to be there for the birth registration. A remarkable adolescent whose life has been changed and now is an agent of change!
UNICEF and its partners ensure that cost, travel distance to the birth registration office; loss of needed income to register their children; lack of awareness of importance of birth registration; ethnic and social barriers, complex administration systems and poverty are not barriers to birth registration as the campaigners want that every child counts.
Although there is a general lack of awareness on the value of registration as a whole, intense efforts like this campaign is reaching Belizeans and they are understanding the value of birth registration as a fundamental right of the child. If a child is not registered at birth, he/she will not have a birth certificate and in legal terms they do not exist, and that they do have a right to an identity, name and nationality.
“Thanks to the UNICEF supported project, the children who are unregistered, are now proud to know that they do exist and are counted, and now have a NAME in the legal system, and will one day be active and productive in their community,” Mrs Daniels from the Vital Statistics UNIT said.
UNICEF is arduously working with the Vital Statistics Unit, Ministry of Health, Special Envoy for Women and Children and so many other partners to ensure more children like Marlon are counted.