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Belafonte urges West Africa to redouble birth registration efforts

DAKAR, 23 February, 2004 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte today appealed to African countries to redouble their efforts at registering births, calling birth registration a fundamental human right.

Fifty million births went unregistered globally in 2000 (out of 130 million). In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 per cent of births - 17 million children - went unregistered.

“For children to count they must be counted,” said Harry Belafonte during a visit to Senegal on behalf of UNICEF. “To deny children their legal documentation, their names, their identity is to jeopardize their very lives and to deny them a future as citizens.”

Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence, the registration of births is vital to a number of rights including:

  • Access to health care
  • School enrolment from the appropriate age
  • Legal protection from child labour, child trafficking, and other abuses
  • Protection from early recruitment into armed services
  • Prevention of illegal child marriage for girls
  • Getting a passport, opening a bank account, voting or finding
  • And the right to a nationality and citizenship

Belafonte called on governments to ensure that birth registration is compulsory, free, and readily accessible.  He also said that a copy of the birth certificate must be provided to parents at no charge upon registration.  He underscored the importance of providing opportunities for registration to even the most remote communities and families and called for greater access to the process.

"For many people, the family resources are sucked dry just trying to get to the registrar,” Belafonte said. “To then be met with a fee, with discrimination, with resistance is just appalling."

The first regional conference on birth registration in West and Central Africa is sponsored jointly by UNICEF, PLAN and UNFPA, and brings together 24 countries to address ways of improving birth registration systems.  The conference builds on the work started with the launch of the Regional Campaign for Birth Registration on the Day African Child 2003 in Mali where all the countries pledged: For every child, an identity. National campaigns are carried out in all 24 countries in the region.

UNICEF has worked across Africa to facilitate birth registration programmes.

A concerted push in Senegal by government, non-governmental organizations, religious and traditional leaders, UNICEF and other partners led to the establishment of a national committee on birth registration.  Working in close collaboration with families and communities, excellent results have been achieved in “communautés rurales” like Fissel where 100 per cent of the newborns in the 28 villages in the community were reached in a period from June 2003 to January 2004.  In the Region of Kolda in cooperation with the NGO Aide et Action, officials hope to reach another 35,000 children though outreach in the schools by the end of 2004. In over 340 villages (representing more than 100.000 people) where the NGO Tostan implemented an education programme, all new-borns are now systematically registered. 500 birth registration officials, village chiefs, local development actors have been trained on birth registration all over the country.

In Cameroon, UNICEF helped register 2,072 children, while 5,458 other cases are being examined. An innovative approach has been launched in Adamoua province:

  • community leaders identify a registration agent they trust and give him the
  • responsibility to register all children at birth in all villages.

“To really know what progress we’re making for children, we have to know how many children we have to begin with,” Belafonte said.  “To provide services, save lives, and plan for the future, it’s essential that every human life be counted.  The simple act of counting is an expression of a country’s intent to take care of its people.”

Attention Broadcasters:
UNICEF b-roll on Harry Belafonte’s 17 year long career as a UNICEF spokesman and advocate for children for UNICEF is available.  Please order on:

For further information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Kenya:  Denise Shepherd-Johnson
Tel: 254 20 622977  Cell: 254 722 719867

Senegal:  Margherita Amodeo,
Tel. +221 869 5842 Cell: +221 569 19 26
Minouche Alavo on Tel. + 221 644 3322

New York: Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel: 212-326-7452,
Traveling with Harry:  Oliver Phillips,Tel: 646-338-8720




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