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At Asia-Pacific birth registration conference, a pledge to reach every child

© UNICEF video
Registrar signs up children during a birth registration campaign in Thailand.

By Shantha Bloemen and Rob McBride

BANGKOK, Thailand, 17 March 2006 – In the shadow of Thailand’s remote northern foothills, thousands of people, many of them children, recently gathered at a human rights fair to claim their fundamental right to an identity.

Han and Porn Naisor brought their son Vichien, 6. “We want him to have the same rights as anyone else in Thailand,” said the father. “But until now we’ve got nothing to prove he exists.” It’s a problem endemic throughout Asia and the Pacific, where tens of millions of children are not registered by their fifth birthday.

“How to reach every child, how to reach every family, is of great concern to us,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah.

“First of all, the child has a right to be registered and recognized, and without that a lot of the benefits that go with being a citizen of a country are lost,” added Plan International Chief Operating Officer Jim Emerson. “It’s all about rights and benefits.”

© UNICEF EAPRO/2006/Yukontorn Rattasarn
At the Asia and Pacific birth registration conference (from left): UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, Nepal youth delegate Bishal Rana, Philippines Civil Registrar General Carmelita Ericta and Plan International Sri Lanka Director Myrna Evora.

Tangible results can be achieved

In a search for solutions, civil registrars, non-governmental organizations and young people from 22 countries across Asia and the Pacific gathered here this week for the 4th Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Universal Birth Registration. Organized by UNICEF and Plan International, it was the first regional birth registration conference to include representatives from countries such as Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

During the four-day meeting, delegates shared their experiences in a range of efforts to achieve universal birth registration, from legal reform to public-awareness campaigns. Participants agreed that the combination of awareness campaigns, mobile registration and improved legal systems can lead to tangible results. For example:

  • In India, a national campaign launched in 2003 led to the issuance of approximately 30 million birth certificates across the country in just one year.
  • In Cambodia, where civil records were completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, a national campaign over a 10-month period last year increased the registered population from less than 5 per cent to over 70 per cent.
  • In Afghanistan, another country devastated by decades of war, registration efforts combined with immunization drives resulted in 1.8 million children being documented in 2004.
  • In Papua New Guinea, where remote and mountainous terrain and limited infrastructure thwarted registration, a national campaign and an expansion of the number of registration sites increased coverage from 3 per cent to 25 per cent.
© UNICEF video
This little girl from Thailand now has a birth certificate with proof of her age, parentage, ethnicity and nationality.

Commitment to universal registration

Bishal Rana, representing a child rights organization in Nepal, reminded delegates that the work of young activists is as critical as that of adults.

“In my country, many parents don’t understand the importance of registering their children. But we young people can access and mobilize communities that others can’t,” said Bishal.

Delegates also addressed the crucial importance of civil registration in times of crisis, such as the tsunami and the South Asia earthquake. Experience in these situations has illustrated that birth registration can protect children from exploitation and increase their access to emergency services. But experience in emergencies has also highlighted the urgent need to simplify registration procedures so that more children and families can benefit.

The Bangkok conference concluded with a commitment to achieving universal birth registration by 2015, in support of the Millennium Development Goals. To help fulfill this commitment, civil registrars agreed to form a network that will continue the dialogue initiated at the conference.

“Looking at all of you I say, ‘We are going to reach our goal’,” Ms. Salah of UNICEF told delegates at the end of the conference. “Let us commit to register all our children.  All of them.”




17 March 2006:
UNICEF Correspondent Rob McBride reports on the 4th Asia and Pacific Regional Conference on Universal Birth Registration.

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