Making every child count in the streets of Kolkata
Kolkata, June 18, 2007 –Paving the way for urban deprived children to access health and education services, protection against abuse and improve planning and monitoring of urban development, 50,000 birth certificates were issued to marginalized and socially disadvantaged children by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation at a ceremony here today.
In a one-of-its-kind endeavour led by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, government departments, UNICEF and partner NGOs, the birth certificates were issued to children born in Kolkata’s underprivileged neighbourhoods.
Mr. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, Mayor, Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Mr. Harbinder Singh, Deputy Registrar General of India, and Mr. Eimar Barr, Deputy Director-Programmes, UNICEF–India Country Office, along with children’s favourite celebrity and renowned magician P. C. Sorcar attended the ceremony.
For the over 700 underprivileged children and representatives of 74 NGOs present at the event, it was a moment of joy and fulfilment of a long cherished dream of making every child on the streets of the city of joy count.
“Birth registration is the first right of a child. Registration secures the recognition of every child before the law and safeguards their rights. Proof of age is also critical to protecting children from abuse and exploitation, child labour and early marriage,” said Mr. Eimar Barr, Deputy-Director-Programmes, UNICEF-India Country Office.
In mid 2005, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, UNICEF and a group of 74 NGOs led by City Level Programme of Action (CLPOA) had joined hands to identify children who were eligible but not registered in Kolkata. Once the children were identified, the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of West Bengal, agreed to reduce the late fee for registration of births of urban deprived children from Rs. 100 to a nominal 50 paisa. The office of the Registrar General of India also demonstrated flexibility by relaxing the requirements for late registration by allowing group affidavits in place of individual affidavits by each child.
Providing 50,000 urban deprived children with birth certificates is just the first step. There are still thousands of children for whom innovative ways will have to be devised to reach the target of registering all births. The policy changes have, nonetheless, served to show the way for other unregistered children in Kolkata and perhaps other cities to get counted.
West Bengal has been doing very well in terms of birth registration. The state has taken a giant leap in registration of births by decentralizing the powers of registrar to Gram Panchayats, thereby maximizing the reach (the state has a total of 3,357 rural registration units and 137 urban registration centres) of this service to people. Consequently, the current rate of registration of births in the state has reached above 97 per cent.
Efforts to register all births have now reached its most difficult stage, with the small percentage of unregistered births taking place in extremely disadvantaged communities that are unaware of its utility and the procedures involved. “A large proportion of these unregistered children live in slums and on sidewalks especially in urban centres like in the city of Kolkata. This project was undertaken to reach those hard to reach,” said Ms. Sumita Ganguly, Acting State Representative, UNICEF Office of West Bengal.
Birth registration confers a legal identity on the child and facilitates easy access to health and education delivery systems. More importantly, it eventually protects them from abuses such as early marriage, trafficking, and exploitative labour, and harassment by law enforcing agencies by ensuring that children are given special protection and not treated as adults. Registration of births, therefore, is essentially a child protection issue.
The current level of birth registration in India is 63.8 % as per the latest 2005 provisional national estimates, which means that out of the estimated 26 million births taking place each year, approximately 9.4 million children (36.2%) go unregistered every year.
The national target of achieving 100% registration of births by 2010 is the goal set by the National Population Policy, 2000. The joint endeavour in Kolkata is a significant step in the advancement of rights of the most vulnerable children and in achieving the national goal.
For more details contact UNICEF Advocacy Officer Priyanka Khanna - 98312 71469.
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