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The bracelet that registers 230 million ‘ghost’ children

May 24, 2017
tags:#Adama Sawadogo, #Burkina Faso, #civil status, #ICIVIL, #registration of births
located:Burkina Faso
by:Bob Koigi
Adama Sawadogo has set out on a Herculean journey. One that he hopes to court technology to achieve.

In a world where over 230 million children under the age of five are not registered, and the majority of them are from Africa, these children lack legal identity and remain vulnerable especially to human traffickers. But in a continent that has enjoyed a technological boom, Adama has founded ICivil Africa, a Burkina Faso based tech start-up that seeks to ride on this boom to make registration of newborn children easy and more accessible. He talked to FairPlanet about the journey so far and the plans to roll out the system to the rest of the world.

FairPlanet: Why does it matter to you to have newborns registered?

Adama Sawadogo: Civil status is the foundation of modern states and a fundamental right. While the identification of individuals through civil status is obvious in developed countries, it is a different story in developing countries where up to 40 per cent of the African population does not legally exist and our continent is home to the majority of the 230 million ‘ghost children’.

Yet this situation, resulting from the non-systematic registration of births, has generally irreparable consequences on individuals (in youth and old age) as well as on the States.

First, for those without identities, their situation is a source of immense suffering. Without recognition by their states, they cannot claim any right: no proper care, no access to education, training or social protection. Children without identities are victims of early marriages, early recruitment into the armed forces among others. In addition, it is impossible for them to access justice appropriate to their age. For those who will have the chance to reach adulthood, other barriers await them. They will never integrate into the formal economy and neither will they participate in key activities like elections. In a nutshell, this means that without this first right, it is impossible for the newborn to access other rights.

The situation also affects states. They lack statistical data necessary to plan their development policies. In addition, we cannot build the economy of our continent without the exhaustive identification of all its actors.

For all these key reasons, I made the choice to concentrate on the future of my continent, devoting all my efforts to legalize each citizen who will now enter into the circle of wealth creation. A fact that will annihilate the poverty of the continent while projecting it to the forefront of the new digital economy.

Explain to us how the technology works.

It is based on an Android mobile application. A unique and impossible to duplicate 'bubbles code', is placed on the bracelet of the newborn. The health officer scans the bracelet using the application which then generates a form with fields like child’s name, sex and name of parents that are to be filled.

The midwife flashes with her smartphone on the bracelet. A form is automatically generated on the phone with fields to be completed (the child's name, sex, names of parents, etc.).

These details are then received by the server of the national Centre of civil status. With the help of automatic data processing, the combination SMS/authenticator produces automatically, a record of birth, ready to print and signed by the competent authorities. This way, the records of civil status become a central national records repository that grows every day. Parents do not need to travel long distances to inform the authorities about the birth.

Every centre for civil status in the country can consult, print and deliver an extract of the requested act.

How effective is this technology in capturing data?

ICivil is a solution of digital identification of citizens that is infallible, and this, thanks to a key component known as 'bubble code'. The fundamental characteristic of a bubble code is its absolute uniqueness which cannot be duplicated. We have had to go through numerous tests and pilots to ensure that it is tamper proof because we understand how crucial a reliable data capture system like this one means to the country. ICivil therefore brings to the states an infallible weapon against digital identity theft.

How do you reach children not born in health institutions?

We have many infants who are not delivered in hospitals but going by World Health Organization figures, up to 95 per cent of them are taken to health institutions to receive their first vaccine. This is the point at which we capture their details. We also work with midwives, some who are in far flung areas where health facilities are not available. We encourage them to alert us on any deliveries where we go and issue bracelets and do data capture. We have also been rolling out massive sensitization campaigns on the need for this kind of registration especially in areas not close to health facilities.

Based on the time you have seen this technology work, how would you describe its impact in one sentence?

Transformative and a game-changer. While it traditionally took more than two years to have these birth certificates, now it takes even a day and governments can now build a reliable and comprehensive registration record.

What is the toughest part you have faced with this project?

The ICivil project has been financed from our own funds. Were it not for the passion and commitment of the co-inventors, including Francis BOURRIERES the inventor of bubble code, we would not have reached our goal. However, from the beginning, we believed and dedicated all the resources (human, material and financial) necessary for the completion of this project because we know the impact it has for humanity

How has been your reach so far with the technology? How many children have you registered so far?

At the request of the Government of Burkina Faso, an experiment took place in the town of Ouagadougou (capital of the country) between August 2015 and July 2016. This pilot project has covered 10 urban and village maternities. So far 1500 newborns have been registered using the technology.

What is the response on the ground? Are parents interested in your idea of registering their newborns?

We have had an impressive support from parents because we have made them realize the importance of having their children registered. In fact most of them keep calling us to register their newborns because they have come to realize how important a birth certificate is to their children in their tender age and even when they start accessing government services.

In your opinion, are governments doing enough to ensure newborns are registered?

I believe there is political goodwill to give newborns legal status. A case in point is September 2015, when all States members of the United Nations took a bold step in embracing sustainable development goals with one of the key resolutions being a guarantee to all of a legal identity by 2030, including through the registration of births. Now that an effective, sustainable and accessible technical solution is available, the problem should be eradicated without delay! It is a ripe opportunity for the entire African continent, since ICIVIL has received strong backing from international organizations such as UNICEF, WHO, the OIF, UNFPA, the World Bank...

How do you intend to scale up this programme?

ICivil has been designed for all of Africa. All African States face similar headwinds in the registration of newborns and so we look to sharing the successes we have experienced in Burkina Faso to the rest of the continent.

We are already discussing this with many countries (English speakers and French speakers) and continue our fact-finding missions across the continent with a view to ensuring birth registration goes completely digital as we mull going global. Now that there is a solution, the two billion humans throughout the world deprived of legal existence can finally hope for recognition. We are doing this for humanity and we are making a clarion call to all players especially the media to help us in reaching out to everyone because a key aspect of dignity for any human in the world is recognition.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Burkina Faso
In a world where over 230 million children under the age of five are not registered, and the majority of them are from Africa, these children lack legal identity and remain vulnerable especially to human traffickers.
In developing countries up to 40 per cent of the African population does not legally exist.
The health officer scans the bracelet using the application which then generates a form with fields like child’s name, sex and name of parents that are to be filled.
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