Despite significant increase in birth registration, a quarter of the world’s children remain ‘invisible’ – UNICEF

Proportion of registered births increased almost 20 per cent over past decade, yet 166 million children under-five have never been officially recorded

11 December 2019
A little holds his birth certificate as he is carried by a UNICEF official

DAKAR, 11 December 2019 – The number of children whose births are officially registered has increased significantly worldwide, yet 166 million children under-five, or 1 in 4, remain unregistered, according to a new report released by UNICEF today on its own 73rd birthday.

Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track? – which analyses data from 174 countries – shows that the proportion of children under-five registered globally is up around 20 per cent from 10 years ago – increasing from 63 per cent to 75 per cent.

“We have come a long way but too many children are still slipping through the cracks, uncounted and unaccounted for,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “A child not registered at birth is invisible – nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law. Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from accessing education, health care and other vital services, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

Global progress is driven largely by great strides in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, but progress is also seen in West and Central Africa where under-five registration increased in 10 years from 41 per cent to 51 per cent, despite the multiple challenges that the region is facing. In the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, the proportion of children whose births are officially registered increased from 30 per cent in 2008 to 43 per cent in 2018, showing the value of integrating birth registration into health services. Francophone African countries, such as Benin, Congo and Guinea have also made steady progress in improving national birth registration rates.

“Birth registration in West and Central Africa remained stagnant for a long time, leaving millions of children without their basic right to legal identity. This situation has now changed and millions more children are registered at birth”, said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “With UNICEF’s support and under the leadership of the African Union and of national governments, countries have invested in integrating birth registration in health and immunization platforms to extend the coverage and accessibility of services and reach even the most vulnerable populations. This simple shift in service delivery is not only low cost but effective in increasing national registration rates, contributing to progress in the region as a whole.”

In Ghana, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2017/2018 revealed that 7 in every 10 children under 5 years had their births registered. Birth registration has increased from 63% in 2011 to 71% in 2017, with 42% boys registered compared to 39% of girls. Disparities persist, with 80% of births registered in urban areas compared to 64% in rural areas.

UNICEF Ghana has been working with the Government of Ghana and other partners to ensure that children are registered at birth.

“As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), let’s give all children the best start in life by registering them at birth. They have the right to an identity, access to social services and legal protection”, said Anne-Claire Dufay, UNICEF Representative in Ghana.

Barriers to registration globally include lack of knowledge on how to register a child’s birth, unaffordable fees for registering a birth or obtaining a birth certificate, and distance to the nearest registration facility. Traditional customs and practices in some communities – such as new mothers staying indoors or single mothers’ inability to register their children – may also deter or prevent formal birth registration in the permitted timeframe.

“Governments must scale up proven solutions to improve birth registration, if they are to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target on making every child count”, stressed Marie-Pierre Poirier.

Even when children’s births are registered, possession of a birth certificate is less common, with 237 million children under-five globally – or slightly more than 1 in 3 – lacking this official proof of registration. 

In Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030, UNICEF calls for five actions to protect all children:

Provide every child with a certificate upon birth.
Empower all parents, including single parents, regardless of gender, to register their children at birth and for free during the first year of life.
Link birth registration to basic services, particularly health, social protection and education, as an entry point for registration.
Invest in safe and innovative technological solutions to allow every child to be registered, including in hard-to-reach areas.
Engage communities to demand birth registration for every child.
“Every child has a right to a name, a nationality and a legal identity, so any improvement in increased registration levels is welcome news. We must not stop until every child is counted” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

Notes to Editors:

Birth registration is the official recording of the occurrence and characteristics of a birth by the civil registrar within the civil registry, in accordance with the legal requirements of a country. A birth certificate is a vital record, issued by the civil registrar, that documents the birth of a child. Because it is a certified extract from the birth registration record, it proves that registration has occurred – making this document the first, and often only, proof of legal identity, particularly for children.

UNICEF global databases include birth registration estimates for 174 countries, primarily from nationally representative household surveys such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Other data sources in the global database include other national surveys, censuses and vital statistics from civil registration systems.

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