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UNICEF’s “Passport to Protection”: The Importance of Birth Registration

On Friday I participated in a Google+ Hangout with the UNICEF’s #ENDViolence Team to learn about the importance of birth registration. Thursday, December 11th marked UNICEF’s 67th year anniversary as one of the world’s leading non-profit organizations focused on the rights and protection of children. In honor of this important milestone, UNICEF released the report “Passport to Protection” which highlights the importance of birth registration in protecting children and giving them an overall basic human right. The right to exist.

Birth registration is the first step in securing a child’s rights to health, education, and freedom from things like trafficking, violence and abuse. It is a passport to protection. Yet around the world, an astounding 230 million children under the age of five – one out of every three children in this age group globally – have never been registered at birth. Tens of millions of more children are without a birth certificate.

At first glance, you may wonder why it is so important. Quite simply, if your birth is not registered you don’t exist. A child cannot enroll in school, is unable to receive life-saving health care services in some countries such as immunization, has little or no protection against trafficking and under-age labor and child marriage. On a macro level, without proper registration of births, there is no accurate count of a nation’s children thus key government services and planning are deficient.

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Given the enormity of the problem and the risk it poses for children around the world, especially in poor countries in which birth registration is especially low, UNICEF is committed to ensuring that every child gets registered and is diligently working with governments around the world to ensure barriers are erased and policies are put in place to ensure that every child gets registered.  Many reasons exist why parents don’t get their child’s birth registered ranging from prohibitive fees to distance of register’s office and desire to keep confidentiality. All these barriers can be easily addressed.

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“Birth registration—and a birth certificate—is vital for unlocking a child’s full potential,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.  “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.”

Facts from UNICEF about Birth Registration:

  • From 2000-2010, #birthregistration increased from ~58% to 65% worldwide. But we still have much more to do. 
  • Last year, only about 60 percent of all babies born were registered at birth globally. The rates vary significantly across regions, with the lowest levels of birth registration found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The 10 countries with the lowest birth registration rates 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%).
  •  Globally, one in seven registered children does not possess a birth certificate.

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Some of the negative consequences of being invisible include increased vulnerability to child trafficking, labor and violence.

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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.

Programs 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 using RapidSMS, an open-source mobile-phone based platform”.

Source: UNICEF press release 12/10/14

About UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, please visit www.unicefusa.org.

The new report, Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, collects statistical analysis spanning 161 countries and presents the latest available country data and estimates on birth registration.

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