Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible by Giving Children a Legal Identity

UNICEF is reaching out to children in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to ensure they get officially registered

Lucio Valerio Sarandrea, Child Protection Specialist UNICEF EAPRO
Teretia and Kateia,two sisters who live in the small Ribono islet of the Kiribati Islands
UNICEF EAPRO
25 June 2021

Teretia and Kateia are two sisters who live in the small Ribono islet of the Kiribati Islands. Their village, with a little less than one hundred inhabitants, is surrounded by the immense vastness of the Pacific Ocean with the closest island, Abaiang, more than one hour distant by boat.

The life of the two girls flows peacefully with Teretia, the elder sister, attending the local primary school and the younger, Kateia, indulging more in playing and helping out her parents with household chores. It was Kateia who one morning spotted a small boat approaching the shores. It was a different kind of boat from the ones normally arriving to the islet for local trade, with an unfamiliar group of people disembarking.

It didn’t take her long to find out the reason of the strangers’ visit, even if she didn’t fully understand their explanation: “We are here for birth registrations and birth certificates”. As she dashed home to report this sensational news, her parents quickly nodded at each other and left their work to reach the group of visitors who had found shelter under a big straw tent. In just a few minutes, the entire village was in attendance, as this was a long-awaited occasion that nobody wanted to miss.

Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible
UNICEF EAPRO
Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible
UNICEF EAPRO

As Kateia eventually discovered, her birth had never been registered, making her one of the “invisible children” without legal identity. After being born at home with the support of a local midwife, her parents kept postponing her official registration as it entailed a trip by boat to the main island, Abaiang, followed by a long car ride to the main town, Taburao, where the registration office was located.  The overall journey would have been perilous and entailed an overnight stay that the family couldn’t afford.

Back under the tent, the registration process itself didn’t last long. After the proper verifications, the government officer, with the support of the UNICEF staff, was able to register Kateia’s birth and issue her a birth certificate. The registration provides Kateia with a legal identity, which, among other things, will enable her to sign up and enroll at the local school. 

This is one of the many activities UNICEF undertakes across the globe to ensure that every child is registered, has a legal identity and is therefore allowed to enjoy all the rights she or he is entitled to. Mobile registration teams have proven to be a very effective tool to register difficult to reach populations, such as children like Teretia and Kateia who live in widespread territories like Kiribati, scattered across the Pacific Ocean in an area larger than India, yet with only 120,000 inhabitants.

Leaving none behind means reaching children like Kateia, living in a small islet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No matter where they live, every child has a right to legal identity, and UNICEF will continue to embark on the adventurous journey required to reach all of them.

Making the ‘Invisible’ Visible
UNICEF EAPRO