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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Without birth registration, children are shut out of society altogether

The births of almost half the world’s children are not registered, leaving them outside support and protection systems and uncounted in policy decisions. UNICEF supports the right of every child to be registered at birth, without discrimination.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 12 February 2013 – Registering a child’s birth is a critical first step towards safeguarding her or his lifelong protection by establishing an official identity, a recognized name and a nationality.
Yet, around the world, 49 per cent of children under the age of 5 are not registered.

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


Registration is important

When a person does not have an officially established existence, there can be no birth certificate, no proof of age, no proof of biological parentage, no identification and no passport.

Children with no birth certificate don’t exist before the law, and are in danger of remaining on the margins of society, or being shut out altogether. They are more likely to face major challenges in accessing healthcare, education and social assistance.

They are the first to fall through the cracks in protection systems; their ‘invisibility’ makes it more likely that discrimination, neglect and abuse they might experience will be unnoticed, and unchallenged. Without an age established by birth certificate, there is no protection against child labour, against being treated as an adult in the justice system, against forcible conscription in armed forces, against child marriage and trafficking.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-2489/Asselin
Diomande Noel Berole, 10, holds his birth certificate, outside African Development Bank Zanzan II Primary School, in Bondoukou, Côte d’Ivoire. Around the world, 49 per cent of children under the age of 5 are not registered.

Having a birth certificate supports the traceability of unaccompanied and separated children and promotes safe migration – and can be a vital factor in preventing statelessness, itself an obstacle to claiming rights as a citizen. Birth registration is also an essential part of a country’s civil registry, providing governments with vital statistics to support accurate planning and monitoring of a country’s education, health, social welfare and economic policies.

Ultimately, birth registration shows that children belong to a family, a community and a nation, and guarantees their right to assume their place in the social and political life of the country, as adults.

Registration is a right

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. Birth registration should be carried out immediately after birth, or as soon as possible thereafter.

It should be free and accessible to all, even if children are registered late.

Registration of children under 5 is almost universal in industrialized countries, but only half of children under 5 have their births registered in the developing world. Nearly two out of three children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were not registered in 2007, with eight countries in these regions registering fewer than 10 per cent of their children. In comparison, in Latin America, 11 per cent of children under 5 were not registered, according to 2000–2008 data.

© UNICEF/BANA2012-00802/Khan
Toma Rani Chanra, 2, waits with her mother to complete her birth registration in Jagannathpur Upazila, Bangladesh. Children whose births are not registered are the first to fall through the cracks in protection systems.

There are also disparities within countries. Children in urban areas are more likely to be registered than those in rural areas. Globally, however, one third of children living in urban areas have not been registered at birth.

A child from the poorest 20 per cent of households is less likely to be registered, as are children belonging to minorities, including indigenous children, and refugees. 

Registration is supported by UNICEF

UNICEF works with governments to strengthen their ability to support birth registration. Programmes include human capacity development, development of birth registration materials, reform of policy and legal frameworks and identifying synergies with other service areas, such as health and education. Innovative approaches, including the use of SMS technology, are also being explored.

UNICEF also works with partners to strengthen support for birth registration, placing special emphasis on vulnerable and excluded groups.

UNICEF supports universal birth registration within the context of an overall child protection system, and as part of civil registration. Such an approach recognizes both the link between non-registration and the vulnerability of unregistered children to sexual exploitation, abuse, trafficking and other violations, and the importance of birth registration data in the planning of a country’s economic and social development. UNICEF’s strategic actions are geared towards strengthening child protection systems in order to reduce obstacles to the registration of every child at birth and to build capacity in countries to ensure that all children are registered.



In Focus: Birth registration & school

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