At a glance: Philippines

Counting every child: Birth registration drive under way in the Philippines

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© UNICEF Philippines/2006/Johnson
In Maharlika Village, a Muslim community in Taguig municipality on the outskirts of Manila, Philippines, Asiyah Sultan (holding child) registers her children during a birth registration drive.

By Betty Uy-Regala

MANILA, Philippines, 14 March 2006 – It is a big day for Asiyah Sultan and her children. The family has traveled to a mobile birth registration centre in a Manila suburb, taking part in a drive that aims to reach all the children of the Philippines.

“I really had planned to register them from birth, but I didn’t know how,” explains Ms. Sultan. “I want my children registered so that they will not have difficulty entering school.”

Many Filipino parents have similar concerns. Without a birth certificate, their children will have no proof of name, age, parentage or ethnicity. As the children grow up, their rights to education, social services, health care and protection could all be in jeopardy. And yet, nearly 2.3 million children in the Philippines remain unregistered.

Toward universal registration

Globally, about half of the births in the developing world (excluding China) go without birth registration each year. In Asia and the Pacific region, there are tens of millions of unregistered children.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Philippines/2006/Johnson
Birth registration in Maharlika Village.

A major barrier to universal birth registration in Asia is the lack of public awareness about registration as a fundamental right. “It is often seen as a mere formality and not given importance as compared to bigger issues such as poverty and hunger,” says Regional Building Relationships Advisor Ming Viado of the non-governmental organization Plan Asia. “Other barriers stem from lack of political will, conflicts and war, as well as ethnic and gender discrimination.”

This week, the 4th Asia and the Pacific Regional Conference on Universal Birth Registration is being held in Bangkok, Thailand to help break down those barriers. At the conference, UNICEF and its partner Plan International are bringing together civil registrars from 26 Asian and Pacific countries, along with representatives of governments and international agencies, to share their experiences with birth registration.

“One of the things we would like to do is form a network of civil registrars so that we can consult one another in case of problems such as disasters,” says registrar Carmelita Ericta of the Philippines.

Story of an ‘invisible’ child

As night falls in downtown Manila, children living on the edge gather in large number on the streets. Many do not have birth certificates. One of them, Shovey (not her real name), 16, was trafficked to Manila to work as a maid almost a year ago. With help from friends and local officials, she eventually found refuge at a centre run by Visayan Forum, an NGO that protects children from trafficking.

Shovey was treated at the centre for multiple bruises on her body. During the first few weeks there, she would scream, kick and bite social workers every time they approached her for counselling. To this day, tears stream down her face when she recalls her harrowing time on the street.

“These are invisible children. If they are not registered, then in a sense they don’t exist,” says UNICEF Philippines Child Protection Officer Foroogh Foyouzat. “Unregistered children are also easy prey for traffickers. Establishing a child’s age is particularly important in cases such as early marriage, child labour, recruitment of child soldiers or children in conflict with the law [who] could be prosecuted as adults if their age can’t be established.”

With help from UNICEF and its partners, Shovey now is going through the registration process. “Because of my birth certificate, I can now go home, enrol in school and study to be a nurse,” she says, beaming.

“The only way to protect thousands of children like Shovey,” adds Ms. Foyouzat, “is to get them registered.”


 

 

Video

14 March 2006:
UNICEF’s John Mims reports on efforts to register all children in the Philippines.

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Op-ed

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah and Plan International Chief Operating Officer Jim Emerson on the right of every child to be registered [PDF]
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