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Mums queue for birth certificates in Angola

Mothers are queuing up at hospitals to get their babies vaccinated and registered certificates, after Angola brought in free birth certificates for children under five.

Without a birth certificate, children have problems enrolling at school, getting medical jabs, voting, marrying and even getting a proper burial.

To tackle its epidemic of children without these essential papers, Angola’s government has just brought in a new law which means children under five can have their births registered for free at maternity hospitals.

One of Africa's major oil producers, Angola is also one of the world's poorest countries. It is striving to recover after 30 years of armed conflict between the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel group Unita.

Unlike many Angolan children before her, Euginia Mwashivange’s five-year-old daughter, Launa, will be able to go to school and hopes to attend next year –but that’s only if she can get a birth certificate.

In Cunene Province and in the south central African country’s capital, Luanda, many children share Launa’s problem. There are lots of reasons why they don’t have birth certificates. Sometimes travelling from cut-off country areas to a hospital or government office takes a day or more, there are long queues and it is a lengthy drawn out process.  The child’s parents themselves may not have identity papers and their fathers are often absent or unknown.

But effectively, without the document these children don’t exist. Luana, who was born at home, is already having problems getting a medical card, to record all her vaccinations.

Now the new law is in place, local officials, backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef are trying to speed up the process of getting children registered. First by raising awareness among mothers of how important the documents are, and secondly by training village leaders to write formal documents and negotiate with government officials when needed.

Among the jostling crowds buying vegetables in Luanda’s marketplace, the theatre group ‘Grupo Teatro Oprimido’ – Theatre of the Oppressed – stages a performance. Its message is simple: ‘Get your babies registered – it's free and vital for their future.’ The theatre group also helps spread information about health and child protection, including tackling issues such as drugs, child labour, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence.

Nearby at Cazenga Hospital, women and children wait for vaccinations. There is a room set aside especially to register births. The next challenge will be driving change in Cunene and other, more remote, parts of the country.

Hayley attribution