Birth registration – giving every child their ‘first right’
The European Commission and UNICEF have recently launched a new project to improve birth registration rates in eight selected countries in Africa, Asia and Pacific regions.
Announced by Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs and UNICEF Associate Director, Child Protection, Susan Bissell, the project seeks to address the under registration of births in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Mozambique, Uganda, Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. By ensuring that births are registered, millions more children will be able to enjoy access to healthcare, attend school and vote in elections for the first time.
Less than half of all children under five in developing countries are currently registered at birth. A seemingly simple administrative act, birth registration can actually serve as a life-long passport to security, access to education, good health, advancement and mobility for those children officially accounted for. Meanwhile, those who remain ‘off the records’ are left perpetually more vulnerable to a host of abuses – including child marriage and underage military recruitment.
Speaking about the EU-UNICEF initiative, which will help to ensure the registration of children born in the eight focus countries, Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs declared birth registration as every child’s ‘first right’, a right so fundamental that it actually provides a life-long basis for claiming all other rights.
Failure to register: cumulative effect
Failure to register a birth can have a severe knock-on effect in the life of a child, leaving them legally non-existent and preventing them from accessing relevant programmes and services as they grow. Nameless and ageless in the eyes of the law, they become more vulnerable to being married under age, or being prosecuted and sentenced as an adult in the judicial system.
At national level, the lack of birth registration in developing countries undermines government and NGO efforts to prevent, track and counter abuses of children’s rights and frustrates their attempts to trace the families of separated children. It also skews demographic data, preventing the calculation of accurate country statistics and therefore the planning of appropriate social services and the development of suitable policies and programmes, for example the construction of schools and the training of teachers, nurses and doctors.
Challenges to registration
Both the geographic and socio-economic situations of families continually emerge as the two main factors fuelling the problem. Difficult access to civil registry services, the cost of registering a birth and long distances to registration centres are cited as obstacles. Additionally, many parents in the focus countries simply do not prioritise registration as they focus on coping with an array of other daily challenges.
Statistics from UNICEF reveal that children from the poorest households are twice as likely to be unregistered as children from the richest households, while those born at home have less chance of being registered. The gap between registration of births in urban and rural areas is also highly significant. In Africa for example, 36 % of births in rural areas are registered, compared to 61 % in urban areas.
Addressing the problem
Although the international community has already made concerted efforts to address the lack of birth registration, it remains a major issue. Currently, registration processes in the focus countries are either non-existent or of such poor quality that records are lost or cannot be retrieved.
This new project aims to address the challenges facing families by making registration free for the first time and using efficient and innovative digital techniques and mobile technology. Within three years, project organisers hope to reduce the gap between rural and urban rates of birth registration by at least half. The new systems will also help to set up better links with health services – making sure that people are registered for health facilities and immunisation, as well as social protection.
The launch of the project is timely, coming just ahead of World Population Day (11 July) and the upcoming Family Planning Summit in London, organised by the UK Government with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and partners. The summit, which shares the project’s concern for early years care, aims to galvanise political commitment and financial resources to ensure women in developing countries have access to life-saving family planning information, services, and supplies by 2020.
Ultimately, the project will not only increase the birth registration rate, leading to more fully-functioning and accessible civil registration services, but it will also serve as a model for other developing countries facing the same challenge. Meanwhile, individual children will obtain their first and most fundamental right - a name and identity protected for life.