By Manny Maung
|©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Manny Maung|
Kayin State, July 2015 - Naw Thazin has been caught in the middle of cross fire between non-State armed groups. She has broken her foot, which needed more than three months to heal. She has walked several days through rain and mud to get to remote villages deep into the jungles that border Myanmar and Thailand. Some days, she has gone with little to no sleep.
“It is all part of the job”, says 38 year old Naw Thazin. The registered nurse from Kayin State has made several trips to remote and jungle areas to issue vaccines or deliver health information.
Having travelled regularly and established relationships, Naw Thazin has earned the trust of ethnic villagers as well as armed groups in areas controlled by non-state actors (NSAs).
Because of her experience, she was entrusted with the task of heading up a remote team to issue hundreds of birth certificate registrations to children aged under five in a remote part of Kayin State, during national birth registration week in early May this year.
“No one else ever wants to readily go because these areas are so remote,” Naw Thazin says. “But it doesn’t matter to me that much that I have go out of the way. I still get my salary if I stay and work in the local hospital, but then who will go to these people? It makes all the difference to them, so I do it.”
During the May campaign, 170,000 children in 40 townships from across the Ayeyarwady region, Kayin and Kayah states received birth certificates through the birth registration week campaign, launched by the Government of Myanmar with UNICEF support.
Through the campaign, free birth certificates were issued to all unregistered children under five living in the three states, regardless of their place of birth within Myanmar, as well as ethnic, religious or social background.
Naw Thazin illustrates how remote communities value the opportunity to register their children. “During birth registration week, pregnant mothers walked steep terrain for days to reach the village where we were issuing the certificates. Others came with their small children and babies in tow,” Naw Thazin recalls.
“They know the value of registering the children so they can have access to health care if they need it. It’s the only chance they have to register their children, while living so far away and often in conflict-sensitive areas.”
Credit has to be given to this dedicated health worker. Knowing the difficulties of moving around in such harsh terrain, Naw Thazin spent days leading up to birth registration week calling her own contacts among villagers, Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) and non-state armed groups in the area to notify them of the programme.
By the time she reached Klade Village, near the Thai border, she had expected to register about 50 children. More than 200 turned up.
“Well that was a big surprise!” she laughs. “I’m very glad so many got the message.”
Overall, 29,106 children under the age of five were registered in Kayin State between 4-8 May. The results are a huge success, with a turnout of 121.4 per cent compared to what was originally expected.
“Birth registration is a critical first step towards the fulfilment of a whole range of children’s rights. It is both a right and an important process for child protection”, says Shalini Bahuguna, UNICEF Deputy Representative to Myanmar.
“Knowing a person’s age is equally essential to protecting children from child labour, forcible conscription in armed forces, and trafficking, and for ensuring children are dealt with appropriately by the justice system.”
In addition, the existence of a birth certificate supports the tracing and repatriation of children who have been trafficked.
The national Birth Registration programme is a collaborative effort by the Government Ministries of Immigration and Population, National Planning and Economic Development, Health, and Home Affairs, with UNICEF technical support.
Myanmar has made significant progress in birth registration rates in recent years. In 2014, the number of children receiving a birth certificate in Myanmar substantially increased, with peaks in the three states where interventions were concentrated (20% increased coverage in Mon State, 41% in Magwe, and an astonishing 300% increase in Chin state – where the coverage was the lowest in the country).
Nonetheless around 1.4 million children, that is 26% of all children under five years, remain unregistered.
“If children are not officially registered, they will be vulnerable to exclusion, including remaining unaccounted for in planning and budgeting. This has lasting consequences not only for their wellbeing but also for the development of their communities and the country,” Ms Bahuguna concludes.