Only 60 per cent of South Asian children under 5 years of age are registered and have a birth certificate. In many countries in the region not only is birth registration not complete, there is even less registration of deaths, marriages or other vital events.
Birth registration is a person’s first recognition before the law. There is no marked difference by gender but wealth status and location (rural and urban) are important determinants of disparities. Registration enables children to access their rights. The lack of registration limits a person’s access to protection, to services as well as potentially restricting a person’s ability to participate in society. Knowing a child’s age can ensure that age-related legislation is enforced thereby preventing child marriage, recruitment by armed forces and armed groups and child labour. A child’s proof of age can prevent unnecessary contact with the criminal justice system. It may signify the beginning of the legal contract between the individual and the State known as citizenship as the registration clearly indicates both parentage and place of birth.
Birth registration together with marriage and death registration, support knowing the child’s connections – family relationships and place of birth – may support prevention of child trafficking and support reunification efforts such as when children are separated from their family during an emergency, in the context of child forced or other migration, as well as when they are placed in alternative care.
Only 62 per cent of the children under 5 who are registered have a birth certificate. Birth certificates are also essential documents in some countries of the region in order to access services and obtain other documents. For example, a birth certificate is required to access education in India and the Maldives and to access health services in Bhutan. Most countries require birth certificates to obtain other documents such as an identity card and a passport.
The demographic information provided by civil registration is important for governments to create and monitor national population statistics and support planning and decision making, especially in policy aimed at protecting children. UNICEF has produced a guidance note for country offices to assist them in supporting national authorities to develop sensitive, objective procedures for assessing the age of children unable to produce a birth certificate or identifying documentation to prove their age.