Balaka is a rural district of Malawi, located in the Southern region of the country. It is densely populated, but quite poor and backward, with significant emigration to South Africa and more developed areas of the country. About 60% of the population are children. They are vulnerable to several risks, including human trafficking for employment as domestic servants, child labour, and sadly, sexual exploitation and organ trafficking.
The BRAVO! Programme started operating in Malawi in this very district in 2015, to provide every child with birth certificate protection. Balaka has become Malawi's model District for birth registration. Indeed, newborns can be registered here at all 11 health centres, and children up to 15 years old were registered through the Mass Registration Campaign that has just concluded.
A story told by BRAVO! programme staff in Balaka
We met a woman, Lilian, at the Balaka District Registration Office," says Potipher Magombo, national BRAVO! coordinator, "she was happy because she had just collected the certificate of her last born child, little Esther. She told us that she had also taken the opportunity to register his eldest son Jonathan, now 7 years old. When he was born in Balaka Central Hospital, it was not yet possible to register children.
Lilian met BRAVO! activists during her pregnancy check-ups. The activists advise mothers on the importance of having a document for their children and how to obtain one. They help mothers to fill in the application form and inform them where they can get their certificate.
A culture of life and giving names has been developing in Malawi. Previously, women who were due to give birth were not aware of the need to register their children and used to come to the "BRAVO!" centres, often without even having chosen their child's name. Names used to be decided by the families a few days after the birth. Instead, families now agree in advance on the names to be given to their babies, and the mothers come well prepared and usually have two names, one for a boy and one for a girl."
Since 2019, BRAVO! has carried out a Mass Registration Campaign in Balaka district, that resulted in the registration of 180,000 children from 0 to 15 years old who had no documents. The children of all 950 villages in the district were registered with the help of village heads and their assistants, who had been trained. The campaign also went on when the spread of Covid-19 caused the closure of schools, which also provide a safety net for many children, especially in remote villages.
Dr Chilenga, Principal Registration Officer in Balaka, said: "Balaka has become a model district for all other districts in Malawi, that ask us for guidance on how to register so many children. Thanks to the BRAVO! Programme, we have achieved unexpected results, especially in this time of pandemic.
In the coming months, the BRAVO! Programme will be extended to another six maternity hospitals in the districts of Mangochi and Blantyre, so that children will no longer be invisible.