Tanzania has launched a nationwide drive to help parents register their children's births by mobile phone so the government can better plan health, education and other public services.

The new system being rolled out across the country over the next five years allows a health worker to send the baby's name, sex, date of birth and family details by phone to a central data base and a birth certificate is issued free of charge in days.

The initiative is run by the government registration agency RITA, UNICEF and telecommunications company Tigo.

RITA's acting head Emmy Hudson said the project had accelerated birth registration after years of stagnation.

The country has one of the lowest rates of birth registration in eastern and southern Africa. Some 80 percent of Tanzanians - and more than nine in 10 under-fives - do not have birth certificates, according to the 2012 census.

Long delay

Parents have to pay 3,500 Tanzanian shillings ($1.6) if they request a birth certificate within 90 days of a child's birth, or 4,000 shillings afterwards, as well as travel costs - a high price in a country where many rural people live on less than $1 a day.

The government expects to register about a million children under the age of five before the end of this year, and 90 percent of all newborns within the next five years.

Anna Mbelwa, who gave birth to a baby boy at Mbalizi hospital in the southern Mbeya region this month, said the initiative made a big difference.

"I was very impressed because it usually takes a long time to get a birth certificate," Mbelwa told Reuters news agency.

"It was very inconvenient before since parents had to travel a long distance to the district registrar only to be told their children's files were missing." Mbelwa added.

Most parents in rural areas of Tanzania do not register their children because of the steep cost, long distances to registry offices, cumbersome process and lack of awareness of the benefits.

Globally, around 290 million children do not possess a birth certificate, according to UNICEF. 

Source: Agencies