The Vital Statistics Unit was the subject of much controversy in recent months. Prior to the referendum, many persons who attempted to get their birth paper in order to re-register in time to vote in the referendum had problems obtaining their birth paper. Some persons discovered that they were never registered at all or the information was not documented properly and the list goes on. Today a consultation took place to ensure that the Vital Statistics Unit operates more efficiently as it relates to the registration of births. The consultation was led by United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF and Dr. Susan Kasedde, UNICEF Country Representative told the media that a review of the birth registration system was last done in 2016 and part of today’s consultation looked at the recommendations which came out of that review.
Dr. Susan Kasedde – UNICEF, Country Representative: “The birth registration establishes the name, nationality and is fundamental to establishing the identity of a child and of any citizen. The name nationality and identity is critical because there are certain rights that are inherent to an individual because they are a national of a particular place, because they belong to a state. State parties that have signed onto the CRC have signed onto a particular series of obligations to respect, to provide, to fulfill the rights of the nationals of the country. The CRC looks at rights to education, to health, to the best standards of health and there are provisions that are available in the country that are only available if one can provide proof of their citizenship, of the relationship between themselves as a national and that state. It is really critical that we have that proof so that a child is not barred from education, is not barred from health insurance, is not barred from any kind of subsidies for example that might be offered to ensure that they do not fall into deprivation, whatever the case may be, whether it is opportunities for continued education or skills development, opportunities for scholarships, opportunities for healthcare and so on.”
Presently, Belize has a high birth registration rate of ninety-six percent. Those who represent the four percent of unregistered birth, may have chosen not to register their child because they misunderstand the importance of registration or they may live in remote villages. The Vital Statistics Unit falls under the Attorney General’s ministry.
Attorney General – Michael Peyrefitte: “If we have to make it an offense for people to not register births of children then we may have to consider that because it is important for people to understand that you must do that. We are tired of hearing the public complain but at the same time we know that a lot of the public is responsible for many of the difficulties that they have when they go to these offices. If your registration was not on time, was not properly done in the beginning how can you expect twenty-five years later for it to go smooth when you go into the office. What we want to do is try and solve this problem by going back to basics, going back to the beginning. This is how you should register your child: you must register your child by a certain time, you must register that child in a certain way. Hopefully, if we can implement that right away we can eliminate a lot of the problems that we are having now, fifteen to twenty years from now.”
Today’s consultation also looked at ways to modernize Belize’s Birth Registration System.
Attorney General – Michael Peyrefitte: “We have spoken to two or three technical experts in the area who have offered to provide their service but at the same time as I said in the press conference the other day it has to be a protected system and constantly protected. We are sitting here with the British High Commissioner and the Mexican Ambassador. I will be lobbying several people to try and get us some of the funds to set up a system like that and to somehow find a recurrent budget to support the system constantly because as I said it is one thing to get the information online, it is one thing for you to be able to apply online. It is another thing to protect the system from being manipulated online. We don’t want some computer genius to get on that mainframe, to get that data and manipulate that data, then we are in a world of trouble at that point so we have to get it online but we have to get it protected.”
Stakeholders at today’s consultation included the Embassy of Mexico, the British High Commission, Belmopan and UNHCR. At the end of today’s consultation, a road map was established as to the way forward.