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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

At United Nations Headquarters in New York, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and other high-level panelists discuss the importance of birth registration

By Anja Baron

NEW YORK, United States of America, 8 November 2012 – Every child has the right to be registered at birth without any discrimination, according to Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF reports on a discussion about the importance of birth registration, at United Nations Headquarters in New York.  Watch in RealPlayer


Birth registration, which is the official recording of a child's birth by the government, provides each child with basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Yet every year, millions of children are born without receiving a birth certificate, often making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to gain access to basic social services. 

A panel discussion was held yesterday at United Nation's Headquarters in New York to bring attention to the importance of birth registration. Among the panelists were UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations Luis Alfonso de Alba, Deputy Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations Huseyin Muftuoglu, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Country Director for Plan Kenya Samuel Musyoki.

Count every child

In his opening remarks, Mr. Lake emphasized the importance of birth registration: “We must count every child because every child counts…How can we help children if we don’t know where they are, if we don’t know who they are, if they are officially invisible? Birth registration helps make them visible.”

© UNICEF video
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake at the panel discussion.

The lack of proper birth registration limits access to proper health care and basic social benefits such as housing and education.

Additionally, lack of proper documentation makes the task of protecting children from exploitation, abuse and – all too often – early marriage almost impossible. UNICEF strategic actions focus on strengthening child protection systems to reduce many of the obstacles that prevent a child from being registered at birth. Raising awareness and capacity-building, as well as legal and policy reform, are key.

Mr. Musyoki explains: “Without a birth certificate, children are at risk of abuse..It is easy to pretend that they are adults, and we know clearly birth certificates help protect a child against early marriage, child labour and premature recruitment in the armed forces.”

In cases of conflict or refugee crises, birth certificates serve as crucial proof of birth and facilitate traceability of unaccompanied and separated children. In such casess birth registration becomes a ‘passport to protection.’   

According to Mr. Guterres, a lack of birth registration can present grave challenges for refugees: “It’s impossible to organize the voluntary repatriation of people that are not registered. It’s impossible to organize local integration in the country of asylum granting them the full rights of citizenship if they do not exist… Birth registration is absolutely crucial from the point of view of the prevention and the solution of the problems related to refugee status.”

© UNICEF video
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres at the panel discussion.

The road to registration

Cumbersome bureaucratic procedures make birth registration unnecessarily difficult. Integrating birth registration into the overall health system can help solve this problem.

In the Gambia, UNICEF has worked with health clinics to integrate birth registration into maternal and child health programmes. Between 2000 and 2006, the country saw a 23 per cent increase in its birth registrations.

UNICEF is also working with the Government of Malawi to roll out a compulsory birth registration programme to protect children from abuses and to open access to social services. Birth registration is integrated into antenatal and immunization programmes.

Available technology is a major tool in the process. In Uganda, mobile SMS technology is already used to reach children in remote areas and newborns born outside hospitals.

In New Delhi, India, universal birth registration has been achieved by using online registration for the city’s newborns.

And in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau and India, UNICEF is promoting the full computerization of birth registration.

These solutions are being touted as simple and cost-effective ways for countries to simplify the process of registering births.

But, cost effective or not, Mr. Lake believes countries shouldn’t be deterred from placing importance on birth registration: “We may say, well, it costs too much, but when we reconsider the financial implications of these actions, let’s also consider the costs of inaction. The cost to the communities who are counting on strong, healthy and well-educated people to build a better tomorrow. The cost to children who are denied the most basic of all rights, an identity, for lack of a simple piece of paper. These children have lingered too long in the shadows.”



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