We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Birth registration

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-2285/Roger LeMoyne
Shaquila Raimundo, 10, registers herself during community birth-registration activities at Puzuzu Primary School in Maganja da Costa District in Zambézia Province.

Birth registration, the official recording of a child's birth by the government, establishes the existence of the child under law and provides the foundation for safeguarding many of the child's civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child has the right to be registered at birth without any discrimination.

Nevertheless, the births of nearly 230 million children under the age of five worldwide have never been officially recorded. Asia is home to more than half of these children. 

Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence, birth registration is central to ensuring that children are counted and have access to basic services such as health, social security and education. Knowing the age of a child is central to protecting them from child labour, being arrested and treated as adults in the justice system, forcible conscription in armed forces, child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation. A birth certificate as proof of birth can support the traceability of unaccompanied and separated children and promote safe migration. In effect, birth registration is their ‘passport to protection.’  Despite the importance of obtaining official and documented proof of registration, around 290 million children (or 45 per cent of all children under age five worldwide), do not possess a birth certificate. Universal birth registration is one of the most powerful instruments to ensuring equity over a broad scope of services and interventions for children. 

Being an integral part of civil registration systems, the demographic information provided by birth registration is imperative for governments to create and monitor national population statistics. Improved birth registration records contribute to statistical data that are crucial for planning, decision making and monitoring actions and policies aimed at protecting children.

Registration levels, for children under five, are almost universal in the majority ofall industrialized countries and among some countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) and Latin America and the Caribbean. The vast majority of unregistered children are in less developed countries, particularly in the South Asian and sub-Saharan Africa regions., where only half of the children under five years of age have their births registered. Countries dealing with armed conflict or civil war make up the majority of the countries with the lowest birth registration.

UNICEF strategic actions are geared towards strengthening national child protection systems in order to reduce the obstacles of registering every child at birth. Actions in support of birth registration include legal and policy reform; civil registry strategic planning, capacity building and awareness-raising; the integration of birth registration into other services, such as health and education; community-based registration and social mobilization campaigns. Innovative approaches are also used, including SMS technology and support to governments to develop online birth registration information systems.

Visit the resources page for more information.

UNICEF brings the plight of millions of 'invisible' children into focus. Watch this report on birth registration - passport to protection, and to society.





New enhanced search