Birth registrationA birth certificate is a child's proof of identity and represents the first acknowledgement of his or her significance to the country. Proof of birth is needed for a number of services, and it offers a degree of legal protection. But too few developing nations take birth registration seriously, and rates vary widely within and between countries. Some nations do not even know what percentage of their citizens are registered. All developing countries need to assess their status, set targets for improvement and make sure they fulfil them.
Birth registration: Flawed figures
"The child shall be registered immediately after birth..." mandates article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But despite almost universal ratification of this human rights treaty, one third of all births -- about 40 million babies -- go unregistered every year. While the industrialized nations register virtually all their children, civil registration systems are still rudimentary in many developing countries. Many are uncertain as to what proportion of their children are registered; some do not even have a registration system. For these reasons, the league table presents broad percentages of coverage rather than precise numbers.
The problems in estimating registration coverage include the following:
Registration must not be left to chance. Better quality and more timely information is vital to fulfilling children's rights and for national planning, and it is not that difficult to obtain. Countries including Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey have recently used household surveys to assess birth registration coverage.
These surveys also highlight disparities within countries. In Pakistan, for instance, Punjab Province registers 88% of children, while in North-West Frontier Province the figure is only 46%. Turkey's western region has a coverage rate of 84%, compared to the figure in the east -- 56%.
So far, too few countries have taken birth registration seriously. All developing countries need to assess their current status, set specific targets for improvement and follow up with regular monitoring.