One in three of all children under five around the world do not officially exist, a new report released by UNICEF shows.
Estimated 230 million children not had their births registered, according to Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, which collects statistical analysis spanning 161 countries and presents the latest available country data and estimates on birth registration.
The 10 countries with the lowest birth registration levels are: Somalia (3%), Liberia (4%), Ethiopia (7%), Zambia (14%), Chad (16%), United Republic of Tanzania (16%), Yemen (17%), Guinea-Bissau (24%), Pakistan (27%) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (28%).
Even when children are registered, many have no proof of registration. In Eastern and Southern Africa, for example, only about half of the registered children have a birth certificate. Globally, 1 in 7 registered children does not possess a birth certificate. In some countries, this is due to prohibitive fees. In other countries, birth certificates are not issued and no proof of registration is available to families.
Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents are often excluded from accessing education, health care and social security. If children are separated from their families during natural disasters, conflicts or as a result of exploitation, reuniting them is made more difficult by the lack of official documentation.
“Birth registration – and a birth certificate – is vital for unlocking a child’s full potential,” said Rao Gupta. “All children are born with enormous potential. But if societies fail to count them, and don’t even recognize that they are there, they are more vulnerable to neglect and abuse. Inevitably, their potential will be severely diminished.”
Birth registration, as an essential component of a country’s civil registry, also strengthens the quality of vital statistics, aiding planning and government efficiency.
According to UNICEF, unregistered births are a symptom of the inequities and disparities in a society. The children most affected by these inequities include children from certain ethnic or religious groups, children living in rural or remote areas, children from poor households or children of uneducated mothers.
Programmes need to address the reasons that families do not register children, including prohibitive fees, unawareness of the relevant laws or processes, cultural barriers, and the fear of further discrimination or marginalization.
UNICEF is using innovative approaches to support governments and communities in strengthening their civil and birth registration systems. In Kosovo for example, the UNICEF Innovations Lab has developed an efficient, effective, and low-cost means of identifying and reporting unregistered births, built on the RapidSMS mobile-phone based platform.
In Uganda, the government – with support from UNICEF and the private sector – is implementing a solution called MobileVRS that uses mobile phone technology to complete birth registration procedures in minutes, a process that normally takes months.
“Societies will never be equitable and inclusive until all children are counted,” added Rao Gupta. “Birth registration has lasting consequences, not only for the child’s wellbeing, but also for the development of their communities and countries.”