UNICEF Home
unicef in actionHighlightsInformation ResourcesDonations, Greeting Cards, & GiftsFor the MediaVoices of YouthAbout UNICEF
Unicef Home      

Press Centre

Press Centre Home

Press Releases 1996-2003

UNICEF in the News

Calendar

Executive Speeches

Country Stats

For Broadcasters

Press Centre

Fact sheet

FACTSHEET: BIRTH REGISTRATION

Overview

Day of the African Child
Links

The right to a name and nationality is well established. However, in 2000 alone, some 50 million births went unregistered – over 40 per cent of all estimated births worldwide that year. These unregistered children are almost always from poor, marginalized or displaced families or from countries where systems of registration are not in place or functional.

Globally, South Asia has the largest number of unregistered children, with approximately 22.5 million, or over 40 per cent of the world’s unregistered births in 2000. In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 per cent of all births went unregistered in 2000. In South Asia, the figure was 63 per cent. In the Middle East and North Africa, nearly one third of the children born in 2000 were unregistered, while in East Asia and the Pacific, 22 per cent of births were not registered.

Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence, the registration of births is fundamental to the realisation of a number of rights and practical needs including:

  • Providing access to health care;
  • Providing access to immunization;
  • Ensuring that children enrol in school at the right age;
  • Enforcing laws relating to minimum age for employment, handicapping efforts to prevent child labour;
  • Effectively countering the problem of girls forced into marriage before they are legally eligible, without proof of age;
  • Ensuring that children in conflict with the law are given special protection, and not treated (legally and practically) as adults;
  • Protecting young people from under-age military service or conscription;
  • Protecting children from harassment by police or other law enforcement officials;
  • Securing the child's right to a nationality, at the time of birth or at a later stage;
  • Protecting children who are trafficked, and who are eventually repatriated and reunited with family members;
  • Getting a passport, opening a bank account, obtaining credit, voting or finding employment.

In addition to issues relating to protection, a functioning system of birth and civil registration ensures that the country has an up-to-date and reliable database for planning. This is as useful for national level planning as it is for local government bodies that are responsible for maintaining education, health and other social services for the community.

Most countries have a legal provision for registering births of children within a prescribed period. However, these laws are often not comprehensive enough, are not enforced or do not function. In many developing countries, birth registration systems have fallen into disuse. In some cases this may be due to bureaucratic lethargy and a lack of oversight. It may also be linked to a lack of resources, given the costs attached to providing birth registration. There are also practical problems, for example where births occur away from registration locations. This includes births in isolated rural areas, or births away from medical facilities where registration normally takes place.

Sometimes there may be a deliberate element to a lack of birth registration, with particular groups being excluded due to discriminatory policies intended to minimize the size of ethnic minorities for political reasons or avoid the provision of assistance to immigrants.

Particularly in remote areas, parents often do not see the benefits of their own citizenship, let alone the benefits that birth registration would confer on their children. Where registration facilities are difficult to access or have costs attached, parents may be reluctant to register their children. A lack of parental enthusiasm for birth registration can undermine efforts to improve birth registration systems.

Building a protective environment for children

The first requirement is that birth registration be universal and free. In some countries a fee is levied. Governments have to be committed to make the resources available to register every child without discrimination. This includes organizing awareness-raising and promotion campaigns. Birth registration also requires trained staff with the necessary equipment to provide registration where people need it.

Families and communities need to be made aware of the importance of birth registration, and registration should be compulsory. Sometimes parents and communities either fail to appreciate how important it is for their child to be registered or are suspicious about the motives behind it. The media can play an important role in encouraging parents to register their children.

Explaining the value of birth registration to older children who have not been registered can enable them to encourage their parents to ensure their late registration. It can also help ensure that they will register their own children when they themselves become parents.

Local registration facilities need to have adequate capacity to meet needs. They need to be decentralized and accessible to communities. Where registration facilities are remote there are often low levels of birth registration.

Birth registration is in itself a foundation for monitoring and reporting. It is important that birth registration data be disaggregated by gender. It is also important that birth registration cover hard-to-reach populations.

UNICEF’s response

UNICEF sees birth registration as a priority in the package of services that are provided for children at birth. UNICEF seeks free birth registration, and a free birth certificate, for every child in every country. It calls for effective registration systems that are compulsory, universal, permanent and continuous, and that guarantee the confidentiality of personal data. UNICEF’s approach to improving levels of birth registration focuses on:

  • Advocacy. UNICEF supports campaigns to encourage parents to register their children. UNICEF also works closely with governments to encourage greater attention to, and resources for, birth registration;
  • Situation analysis. UNICEF seeks to develop a clear picture of which children are not registered, where they are and why they are not registered;
  • Capacity-building. UNICEF provides support to systems for birth registration. This ranges from training to the provision of essential materials;
  • Working with partners. UNICEF works with a range of partners, particularly NGOs, in the promotion of birth registration;
  • Integrating birth registration into immunization programmes. UNICEF looks for opportunities to advance birth registration through other areas of its work. Immunization is often a convenient moment for birth registration.

UNICEF in action

In Bangladesh, UNICEF has supported the government with a district-based approach to birth registration promotion that has now spread to include 12 districts and four large city corporations. Nearly 5 million children under six have had their births registered. This work is combined with communication activities directed at local and religious leaders, teachers and others. In rural areas, field health workers collect birth data for the registrars. In urban areas, computerized birth registration is being introduced, linking the electronic birth register with an electronic child immunization register.

In Colombia, UNICEF has supported the registration of displaced children in frontier zones and minority communities. At the same time, mobile registrars have been set up in rural areas where low levels of birth registration have been identified.

In the Dominican Republic, UNICEF has worked with the Catholic Church in 11 dioceses to promote the registration of children, including older children who were bypassed as infants.

In the Philippines, UNICEF has supported a range of birth registration activities including:

  • Declaring a ‘Civil Registration Month’;
  • Convening a national birth registration meeting;
  • Strengthening civil registration systems;
  • Holding biannual meetings of local registrars;
  • Amending the registration law;
  • Developing a central database on civil registration.

In Viet Nam, UNICEF has worked with the government and non-governmental partners in a programme including:

  • Assisting in the development of a national action plan aimed at ensuring birth registration of all children in the country;
  • Developing the 1998 Government Decree on Civil Registration, which establishes children’s right to registration;
  • Assisting in training civil registrars at district and commune/ward levels on children's rights and government regulations on birth registration.

An increase in birth registration from 60 per cent to 87 per cent has been reported from 1998 to 2001.

At a regional level, in 2002, UNICEF brought together ministers, other government officials and UNICEF staff from around the world in a consultation in Uganda to discuss how to make birth registration a higher priority for governments. Representatives from Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda shared challenges and strategies.

Birth registration rates lowest in rural areas
Percent point difference between rural and urban birth registration rates

Countries

% Urban

% Rural

Difference

Niger

85

40

Chad

53

18

Myanmar

87

53

Senegal

80

46

Côte d'Ivoire

88

60

Indonesia

47

20

Lao P.D.R.

82

56

Sierra Leone

66

40

Central African Rep.

88

63

Kenya

81

57

Vietnam

91

68

Cameroon

94

73

Tanzania

22

3

Dominican Republic

82

66

Botswana

65

52

Gambia

37

29

Philippines

88

81

Georgia

97

92

Burundi

48

43

Comoros

87

83

Bolivia

83

80

Nepal

37

34

Tajikistan

77

74

Azabijian

98

96

Bosnia & Herzegovina

98

99

Lesotho

41

53

Guinea Bissau

32

47

Swaziland

50

72