Innovations in Mobile Birth Registration: Insights from Tanzania and Pakistan

The ability to prove one’s identity is essential to securing a number of life-enhancing services such as healthcare, education, financial services, connectivity and social protections. However, at least 1.5 billion people still lack an official form of identification and in many countries, this problem disproportionately affects the most vulnerable segments of society such as the poor, individuals fleeing persecution or conflict, women and children. Recognising the risk the ‘identification gap’ presents to inclusive development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have set a target to provide every person with a legal identity, including birth registration, by 2030.
Birth registration is the first legal recognition of a child by its government, and as a permanent recording of their age and identity, registration can help secure access to vital services and protect against exploitation or abuse. For national governments, birth registration is also a vital first step in establishing a robust Civil Registration system – an essential tool for effectively planning and monitoring the delivery of public services, development policies and infrastructure programmes. Even so, UNICEF estimates that globally the births of 230 million children under five have not been registered, and every year 50 million children are born into this state of invisibility. Close to 99 per cent of unregistered births take place in developing countries, where parents face a number of supply and demand-side barriers including inefficient and fragmented government processes, prohibitive costs, and a lack of awareness of the benefits of registration.
Renewed commitment to improving birth registration comes at the same time an expansion in mobile connectivity and innovations in mobile technology are drastically improving the means and efficiency by which birth information can be collected, shared, verified and stored. More than ever, it is evident that the mobile industry is uniquely positioned to bring the benefits of digital technology to many of the poorest and hardest to reach communities around the world.
In the M4D Digital Identity team, and with the support of DFID, we work with the mobile industry, governments and the development community to build the capacity, partnerships and insights required to deliver scalable digital identity solutions in emerging markets. Understanding how mobile operators can unlock value in the birth registration process is an important part of this effort, and our latest Insight Briefing explores how Millicom Group’s Tigo Tanzania and Telenor Pakistan applied mobile technology and in-house expertise to address this pressing need.
Our report shows that by helping to design mobile applications that address fundamental barriers to birth registration – particularly process efficiency, accessibility and affordability – the mobile operators helped to achieve significant, measurable impact in a relatively short amount of time. In Tanzania, Tigo saw registration rates in the target areas rise from 8.9 per cent to 30.3 per cent in just six months. Across all three of Telenor Pakistan’s pilot locations, almost three times as many children were registered between June and December 2015, as compared to the same time period in the previous year. Whereas the traditional registration process in Pakistan required, on average, three trips to a government office and a processing time of two days, the new mobile registration process enables parents to register births without leaving their community (and in some cases, without leaving their home) and can be completed in less than ten minutes.

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In addition to providing each operator with significant reputational value, the success of each project has resulted in respective governments committing to take the new digital birth registration systems to scale. Tigo, UNICEF and the Government of Tanzania committed to roll out the new system across ten other regions, with an aim to register and provide birth certificates to 3.5 million children under the age of five by 2019. The new phase of this project was launched in the regions of Iringa and Njombe in late September 2016, and in the first two weeks of implementation the new system successfully registered just under 160,000 children under the age of five. Other Millicom Tigo subsidiaries have visited Tanzania to learn more about their involvement in this project, and new birth registration programmes have been launched by Tigo Ghana and Tigo Bolivia.
Meanwhile, in October 2016 Telenor Pakistan, UNICEF and the Local Government Departments of the Provincial Government of Sindh launched the second phase of their partnership, with the launch of the project in Punjab expected to take place in early 2017. This new phase will expand the project to the entire districts of Thatta in Sindh, and Pakpattan in Punjab and is expected to facilitate the registration of around 700,000 children across 108 locations by the end of 2017.
Our report ends by advocating that although many mobile operators will be driven to support mobile birth registration initiatives for reasons other than commercial gain, it is vital that partners work together to ensure that the initiatives can be financed sustainably and create both short- and long-term value for all partners. To that end, Telenor and the GSMA are now working together in Pakistan to investigate whether the operator’s role as a registration intermediary can provide additional revenue streams through data, disbursements and links with other value-adding services, including maternal and child health advisory services provided via text message, and customized SMS alerts to remind parents of their child’s immunisation milestones. We look forward to sharing insights from this important work later in the year.