Born Without a Trace: Senfuka Samuel

As told to Marissa Ware, as part of the Brave Voices, Bold Actions podcast

What role does a birth certificate play in your life? It might not be something you think about often, but that little piece of paper plays a critical role from childhood throughout the rest of your life. In Uganda, universal birth registration is a big challenge.

My name is Senfuka Samuel and I’m from Uganda, East Africa. When I was applying for my master’s degree program, they asked me to share my birth certificate alongside my undergraduate school records. I’d never seen my birth certificate before, though I knew I’d been lucky enough to be born in a hospital. I asked my mom, “Did you get a birth certificate when I was born?” She told me, “They used to give us some pieces of paper. Because it is now many years back, those papers were lost. You can go back to the hospital, because at least I know the date, year, day and time you were born.”

Headshot of Senfuka Samuel
Headshot of Senfuka Samuel
Senfuka Samuel

I went to the hospital where I was born and wrote a formal letter requesting for a birth notification, providing details of when I was born. In Uganda, you can’t get a birth certificate without first having a “birth notification.” A midwife has to write the birth notification by hand to note the time of birth, the weight, the parents and the name of the health facility where the baby was born. It is then the parent’s job to take this little slip of paper to the Office of the National Identification and Registration Authority, which is in charge of issuing a certificate, to notify them a baby has been born.

Unfortunately, the hospital records before 2000 were lost during the civil war. The hospital director advised me to go to the subcounty and get a birth notification from the subcounty chief.

So, that’s what I did, I traveled back to the village. I went to the chief in the village and got the notification. I traveled back to the capital city, Kampala, went to the national office and filled out the forms. From start to finish, it took me about 14 days and hundreds of miles to get a birth certificate. I had to sacrifice my time and money for travel to get it. I do not know what someone without my ability to travel easily would have done. I’m very lucky, but I can’t help thinking it could have been easier.

There needs to be a robust communication strategy for birth registration. How many parents are not aware that the birth notification isn’t a birth certificate? They go to the hospital to have a healthy, safe birth, and they leave for home with a healthy, happy baby. They don’t realize they are leaving behind the paperwork that will make their baby’s dreams possible. They just go home, and, if they are like me, nobody knows for over 20 years that the baby does not have a birth certificate, they don’t have the paperwork to make their desires for higher education possible, and so many other dreams possible. They don’t know even that it’s their right to be registered at birth. People won’t demand things they don’t know.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Respectful Maternity Care Charter: The Universal Rights of Women and Newborns

Article 9 of the Respectful Maternity Care Charter:

9. Every child has the right to an identity and nationality from birth.

No one is allowed to deny your newborn birth registration, even if they die shortly after birth, or deny the nationality your newborn is legally entitled to.

Legal authority:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, Article 24
Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990, Article 7
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990, Article 29

Regional legal authority:
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,1998, Article 5
American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, Article 3

Learn more about the universal rights of women and newborns at https://www.whiteribbonalliance.org/rmcresources

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Inspiring and convening advocates to uphold the right of all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

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