How a woman and a phone change the world

In Pakistan, a group of women are doing work that has a positive impact long after their visit. They provide identities to the unregistered children.

Mai Hajani has recently given birth, an event worthy of days of celebration with friends and family. Two of the guests are of extra importance, namely the local Lady Health Worker (LHW), Lateefan Banu and her daughter Saira.

Lateefan is one of the nineteen women working in Union Council Dhabeji. A resident of the area, she has been working as a health worker for the last seventeen years. She caters to 147 households comprising of over 1,000 people.

Alongside raising awareness on health, hygiene and immunization matters among mothers, another important job is the initiation of processes to register all new-born and unregistered children with the government authorities. As soon as Lateefan finds out that a child has been born to any of the 147 households, she visits the family to acquire the details of the new-born for initiating the registration process.

“This is the ninth child I am registering in this village during the last six months,” says Lateefan Banu. “When I started working on birth registration, people were not interested and I did not get a good response even in this village. I then met Allahdad Balooch, the newly-elected councillor and explained the benefits of birth registration and the new process of birth registration through mobile phones. He understood and promised to talk to the residents. Thanks to him, now when a child is born in the village, they invite me for lunch and request to register the child. The mind set has changed.”

The Lady Health Worker, Lateefan Banu feeds details about the new born Darya Khan and his family into her smart phone before transferring it to the Union Council Office – A process which leads to birth registration and issuance of a birth certificate for the child.

Registering newborns made easy

Earlier, the birth registration process was cumbersome and required considerable amounts of time to complete, resulting in a situation where parents usually opted to avoid the process altogether and their children remained unregistered. Another reason for low registration rates stemmed from a lack of awareness about the benefits of birth registration.

The use of mobile phones for scaling-up birth registration in Pakistan is an innovative and efficient supplement to the paper-based manual birth registration system. With funds and technical support from Telenor Pakistan, UNICEF’s mobile phone birth registration initiative has borne great results in Union Council Dhabeji. During the pilot phase in 2015, 95 per cent of new-born children were registered within the first six months of their birth, compared to approximately 5 per cent in 2014.

“Timely birth registration is a “passport for protection” for a child, says the UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Jabeen Fatima Abbas. “Digitalisation of the birth registration process and collaboration with various government departments, as well as with the private sector, is the way forward to achieve universal birth registration for all children in Pakistan.”