Too Many “Invisible” Children Still in Asia-Pacific
Plan and UNICEF call on governments to ensure all children are registered at birth
Bangkok, 11 December 2012 – Government officials from 48 countries across Asia and the Pacific are meeting this week in Bangkok to strengthen their civil registration systems so that all births, deaths, adoptions, marriages and divorces are registered.
Effective and comprehensive civil registration systems allow governments to accurately plan and budget for critical public services, including those necessary to ensure that human, legal and economic rights are realised for all.
Every year, globally up to 51 million children are not registered at birth, marginalising them, denying them a legal identity and often denying access to essential services.
“Plan believes that Universal Birth Registration is impossible to ignore and entirely possible to achieve,” said Mark Pierce, child rights organisation Plan’s Asia Regional Director. “That is why we continue to work with parents/caregivers, governments, the private sector and UN agencies to make every child visible through awareness raising, advocacy for legal and administrative reform, capacity building and technical support".
Outside of China, the birth registration rate in Asia and the Pacific is only 44 per cent, with two out of three children in South Asia having no official record of their names, parentage, date or place of birth.
The lack of a birth certificate can cause statelessness and prevent a child from accessing education, health and social welfare services. It also leaves them vulnerable to family separation. In a natural disaster-prone region such as the Asia-Pacific, birth registration also provides a basis for tracing separated and unaccompanied children in emergencies.
Later in life, a birth certificate can help protect a child against child marriage, child labour, premature enlistment in the armed forces or, if accused of a crime as a child, from prosecution as an adult.
“The children who are not being registered at birth are normally the region’s poorest children,” said Dan Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. “Unregistered children often come from rural areas, ethnic minority communities, and migrant populations, and are more likely to be malnourished and are more likely to die before the age of five than children who were registered at birth.”
Barriers to birth registration such as lack of access to birth registration facilities, lack of awareness, complex administration systems and ethnic and social barriers need to be eliminated to ensure that every newborn and unregistered child is registered.
A fully functional civil registration system is key to achieving this and should be compulsory, universal, permanent and continuous. The confidentiality of personal data and histories should also be ensured.
Bangladesh is an example of where substantial progress has been made in registering children at birth. Efforts by the government, UN, and other partners in Bangladesh helped increase birth registration from approximately 7% in 1996 to 40% in 2008.
“One of the ways to ensure timely and accurate registration of children, especially the vulnerable and marginalised children in remote areas, is through digital birth registration,” Pierce said. “It can help lower the on-going cost per registration by reducing travel expenses, time used during manual processing of birth certificates and bureaucratic bottlenecks found in current processes.”
“Every country needs to know its own vital statistics – its characteristics and trends in terms of births, deaths and other key indicators, such as marriage, divorce and fertility,” said Toole. “While there is a cost to countries for collecting this data, the cost to a child who is not registered is far, far greater.”
Note to Editors
Senior representatives of 48 member States are in Bangkok to begin the “Make Every Life Count” initiative at a two-day High-level Meeting on the Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) in Asia and the Pacific, organised by ESCAP. This is the first event on CRVS of this size to take place in the region. Reflecting the importance of this issue, the 20 development partners supporting countries in the Make Every Life Count initiative include 13 UN entities, 3 international organisations, 2 countries, 1 academic institution and 1 non-government organisation.
Plan is an international development organisation operating in 50 countries around the world to promote and protect the rights of children. Plan also has 21 national organisations responsible for raising funds and awareness in their respective countries. Plan is one of the world's largest child-centred community development organisations working to improve the quality of children’s lives. Together with its partners, Plan has helped register 40 million children around the globe and influenced laws in 10 countries, supporting measures to allow 153.3 million children to receive a free birth certificate.
For more information, please contact:
Nopporn Wong-Anan, Regional Media Specialist, Plan Asia Regional Office, +66-81-839-3032, firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoffrey Keele, Communication Specialist, UNICEF East Asia & Pacific Regional Office, +66-2-356-9407, email@example.com