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1 in 3 children under-five do not officially exist - UNICEF

33% of children under five in Indonesia are not registered - UNICEF on its own 67th birthday releases new report 

NEW YORK/JAKARTA, 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.

“Birth registration is more than just a right. It’s how societies first recognize and acknowledge a child’s identity and existence,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “Birth registration is also key to guaranteeing that children are not forgotten, denied their rights or hidden from the progress of their nations.”

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. 

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

The 10 countries with the lowest birth registration levels are: Somalia (3%), Liberia (4%), Ethiopia (7%), Zambia (14%), Chad (16%), United Republic of Tanzania (16%), Yemen (17%), Guinea-Bissau (24%), Pakistan (27%) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (28%).

Indonesia with an estimated population of 237.6 million people, 81.3 million of them being children under the age of 18, still has a large number of unregistered children. According to the 2012 Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey, only 67 per cent of children under five have been registered. This means: More than 7 million children of that age group do not officially exist in Indonesia. 

“All children have a right to an identity which includes being officially registered and receiving a birth certificate. But still millions of children in Indonesia have no legal identity,” said Marc Lucet, Acting Representative UNICEF Indonesia. “These children lack proper protection from trafficking, child labor and other forms of exploitation, and they also are at risk of losing out on basic social services such as health care, education and welfare programmes.” 

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 does not possess a birth certificate. In some countries, this is due to prohibitive fees. 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 – and a birth certificate - is vital for unlocking a child’s full potential,” said Rao Gupta.  “All children are born with enormous potential. But if societies fail to count them, and don’t even recognize that they are there, they are more vulnerable to neglect and abuse. Inevitably, their potential will be severely diminished.” 

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.

Indonesia reflects these global birth registration patterns: More children are registered in urban settings (76 per cent) than in rural areas (58 per cent); and almost 80 per cent of children from wealthy households are registered, compared to one 40 per cent from the poorest households. 

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 has been supporting the government of Indonesia at national and sub-national level, including in the provinces of Central Java, South and West Sulawesi and Aceh to increase the coverage of birth registration and improve the overall planning process.

“Societies will never be equitable and inclusive until all children are counted,” added Rao Gupta. “Birth registration has lasting consequences, not only for the child’s wellbeing, but also for the development of their communities and countries.” 

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.


Attention broadcasters:  Video stories and photos are available at


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 further information, please contact:

Rita Ann Wallace, UNICEF Media New York, tel: + 1 212 326 7586,

Iman Morooka, UNICEF Strategic Communications, New York, tel: + 1 212 326 7211,

Michael Klaus, UNICEF Indonesia, tel: +62 21 2996 8140,



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