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Making every child count in the streets of Kolkata, India

UNICEF Image: India, birth registration
© UNICEF India/2007/Mandal
Anil Paswan is all smiles after receiving his birth certificate in Kolkata, India.

By Omesh Matta

KOLKATA, India, 22 June 2007 – In a unique initiative to protect street children from exploitation and ensure their rights, birth certificates were awarded to 50,000 youths from underprivileged neighbourhoods at a glittering ceremony in Kolkata this week.

Without birth certificates, children have difficulty gaining access to health care, education and other services. Registration also helps protect children against potential abuse.

The one-of-a-kind endeavour – made possible by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, other government departments, UNICEF and non-governmental partner organizations – calls attention to the issue of birth registration in India. Out of the estimated 26 million births in the country each year, approximately 9.4 million, or 36 per cent, go unregistered.

A moment of joy and affirmation

On hand for the momentous occasion in Kolkata were Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, Indian Registrar-General D.K. Sikri and UNICEF India’s Deputy Director of Programmes, Eimar Barr, along with magician P.C. Sorcar, Jr., a favourite children’s celebrity, and other dignitaries.

Over 700 children were in attendance at the ceremonial event as well. For them, it was a moment of joy and affirmation of their future as citizens. “The birth certificate will come to use for me in many ways,” said one recipient, Anil Paswan. “I can get a ration card made, apply for the Voters Identity Card, and when I look for job it will be helpful.”

UNICEF Image: India, birth registration
© UNICEF India/2007/Mandal
A child receives a birth certificate from UNICEF India Deputy Director Eimar Barr. Also present are Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya and magician P.C. Sorcar, Jr. (left).

For the representatives of 74 non-governmental organizations present, it was the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream: to make every child count on the streets of Kolkata (also known as Calcutta), which has been called ‘the city of joy’.

“Birth registration is the first right of a child,” said Mr. Barr. “Registration secures the recognition of every child before the law and safeguards their rights. Proof of age is also critical to protecting children from abuse and exploitation, child labour and early marriage.”

Hard-to-reach children

In 2000, India’s National Population Policy set a goal of 100 per cent birth registration countrywide by 2010. Efforts to reach that target and confer official identity on every child have now reached their most difficult stage. Most of the remaining unregistered births are taking place in extremely disadvantaged families, which may be unaware of the utility of birth registration and the procedures involved.

“A large proportion of these unregistered children reside in slums and on footpaths, especially in urban centres like in the city of Kolkata,” said Acting State Representative Sumita Ganguly of UNICEF’s West Bengal office. “This project was undertaken to reach these hard-to-reach [children].”

Providing 50,000 children in Kolkata with birth certificates is just the first step. There are still thousands of others for whom innovative ways will have to be devised to reach the target of registering all births. The successes to date have, nonetheless, have created a path for other unregistered, vulnerable children in Kolkata – and perhaps other cities – to be counted and to advance their rights.




18 June 2007: UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on the issuance of birth certificates to 50,000 underprivileged children in Kolkata, India.
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