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Plan to boost birth records

A newborn rests at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital
A newborn rests at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital last year. Eli Meixler

Plan to boost birth records

Working with Unicef, Cambodia will develop a 10-year national strategy to boost birth-registration rates and build an integrated database encompassing identity records for the entire population, recently released tender documents reveal.

“Birth records are very important,” said Unicef community development officer Yi Kosalvathanak.

“It is the only legal identity a child has once they are born; it ensures they get access to education, social support and health care.… It can also protect children from labour exploitation and trafficking.”

Currently being tendered, the national strategy will first focus on improving birth registration rates across the Kingdom, which, at 62 per cent, are among the lowest in the region, before linking the birth records to databases containing ID card, passport and residential records.

Among the challenges to improving the birth-registration system, according to Kosalvathanak, is a lack of staff and resources at the commune level, where chiefs or their clerks – who use pens and paper to keep the civil register – are often unavailable.

Furthermore, villagers, many often unaware of the importance of birth certificates, are hit with a 10,000 riel ($2.50) fine if they don’t register their newborn within 30 days, while some local officials also exact an unofficial fee on top.

“Many poor families cannot afford to pay,” Kosalvathanak explained.

General Department of Identification deputy director Yin Malyna said that his department – set up in April last year to streamline identity records – was currently reviewing the sub-decree and considering whether to change the 30-day rule and introduce an amnesty for unregistered children, which has been suggested by Unicef.

Officials found asking for cash on top of the fee would be punished, he added.

Thanks to grants from the Asian Development Bank and Sweden between 2007 and 2009, Malyna said about 6 million birth certificates had been entered into a digital database, while another $5 million was needed from the government to add the rest.

Following this, he said, birth records would be integrated with other identity data.

“We want to create one identity code for each person in the future.”

Friends-International’s James Sutherland welcomed the strategy, which has an October deadline. “The right to an identity is a fundamental right,” he said.

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