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Malawi/New York, 11 December 2013: 1 in 3 children under-five do not officially exist – UNICEF

LILONGWE/NEW YORK, 11 December 2013- On UNICEF’s 67th birthday today, the organization released a new report showing that the births of nearly 230 million children under-five have never been registered; approximately 1 in 3 of all children under-five around the world. In Malawi, only 3 in every 100 children have their births registered.

The new report, Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, collects statistical analysis spanning 161 countries and presents the latest available country data and estimates on birth registration.

“Birth registration enables a child to be identified and recognized, it’s a child’s passport to protection. The fact that over 97 percent of children are not registered in Malawi is of great concern to us as champions of child rights.  We urge all stakeholders to accelerate efforts so that families find it easier to have their children’s birth registered,” Said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF-Malawi Country Representative.

Globally in 2012, only around 60 per cent of all babies born were registered at birth. The rates vary significantly across regions, with the lowest levels of birth registration found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Somalia is ranked as the country with the lowest birth registration in the Eastern and Southern Africa region (3 percent), unfortunately Malawi has the same rate of registration (3 percent), whereas South Africa has been highlighted to have the highest child registration (95 percent)

Even when children are registered, many have no proof of registration.  In Eastern and Southern Africa, for example, only about half of the registered children have a birth certificate. Globally, 1 in 7 registered children possess a birth certificate. In some countries, this is due to prohibitive fees and processes. In other countries, birth certificates are not issued and no proof of registration is available to families.

Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents are often excluded from accessing education, health care and social security. If children are separated from their families during natural disasters, conflicts or as a result of exploitation, reuniting them is made more difficult by the lack of official documentation.

Birth registration, as an essential component of a country’s civil registry, also strengthens the quality of vital statistics, aiding planning and government efficiency.

According to UNICEF, unregistered births are a symptom of the inequities and disparities in a society. The children most affected by these inequities include children from certain ethnic or religious groups, children living in rural or remote areas, children from poor households or children of uneducated mothers.

In Malawi, Children in urban areas, especially Lilongwe and Blantyre are more likely to have their birth registered than those in rural areas.

Programmes need to address the reasons that families do not register children, including prohibitive fees, unawareness of the relevant laws or processes, cultural barriers, and the fear of further discrimination or marginalization.

UNICEF is using innovative approaches to support governments and communities in strengthening their civil and birth registration systems.  

UNICEF-Malawi has supported the rolling out of birth registration in 41 health facilities in Lilongwe district, resulting in 50,224 children being issued with birth reports since 2012. Plans are also underway to roll out the services in other districts and for the Government to procure machines for the production of birth certificates.

UNICEF also released today A Passport to Protection: A guide to birth registration programming, a handbook for those working on birth registration, providing background information, general principles and a guide for programming.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about UNICEF and its work

For further information, please contact:
Angela Travis, Chief of Communication: Email:



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