The Progress of Nations: The Convention on the Rights of the Child

The right to a name and a nationality

7 of the 43 countries have made efforts to promote birth registration.

The right to a name and nationality is one of the most fundamental human rights. But millions of children spend much of their lives without this legal identity and the benefits and protections it affords.

Children who are not registered do not officially exist. On an individual level, this can complicate enrolment in school and expose them to illegal adoption, trafficking, exploitation as cheap labour, or involvement in prostitution and criminal activities. Lack of a complete registration system means that government, not knowing the true number of its citizens, is hampered in planning for their needs.

Some governments are now giving the matter attention. In Ecuador, where an estimated 1 in 10 children under the age of 12 are not legally registered, the Government's Civil Registry has issued identity papers to a total of 322,600 children between 1990 and 1995. To ensure that this is not a once-only effort, civil registration procedures have been simplified and the Government has mounted a publicity campaign to stress the importance of a legal identity for children.

Photo: The right to a name and nationality is enshrined in the Convention.©

New attempts to promote birth registration are also being made in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines, while Bolivia's Civil Registry recently issued new identity documents for 50,000 urban children under the age of 16.

For those children whose births are registered, the Convention seeks to end the practice, common in both industrialized and developing countries, of indicating on birth certificates whether the child was born out of wedlock (leading to possible legal and social discrimination). The Governments of Lebanon and the Philippines recently eliminated any reference to the marital status of a child's parents on identity papers.

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