Despite significant increase in birth registration, a quarter of the world’s children remain ‘invisible’ – UNICEF

Proportion of registered births increased almost 20 per cent over past decade, yet 166 million children under-five have never been officially recorded

11 December 2019
Birth Registration
UNICEF

DAKAR, 11 December 2019 – The number of children whose births are officially registered has increased significantly worldwide, yet 166 million children under-five, or 1 in 4, remain unregistered, according to a new report released by UNICEF today on its own 73rd birthday.

Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track? – which analyses data from 174 countries – shows that the proportion of children under-five registered globally is up around 20 per cent from 10 years ago – increasing from 63 per cent to 75 per cent.

“We have come a long way but too many children are still slipping through the cracks, uncounted and unaccounted for,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “A child not registered at birth is invisible – nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law. Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from accessing education, health care and other vital services, vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

Global progress is driven largely by great strides in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, but progress is also seen in West and Central Africa where under-five registration increased in 10 years from 41 per cent to 51 per cent, despite the multiple challenges that the region is facing. In the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, the proportion of children whose births are officially registered increased from 30 per cent in 2008 to 43 per cent in 2018, showing the value of integrating birth registration into health services. Francophone African countries, such as Benin, Congo and Guinea have also made steady progress in improving national birth registration rates.

“Birth registration in West and Central Africa remained stagnant for a long time, leaving millions of children without their basic right to legal identity. This situation has now changed and millions more children are registered at birth”, said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “With UNICEF’s support and under the leadership of the African Union and of national governments, countries have invested in integrating birth registration in health and immunization platforms to extend the coverage and accessibility of services and reach even the most vulnerable populations. This simple shift in service delivery is not only low cost but effective in increasing national registration rates, contributing to progress in the region as a whole.”

Despite progress, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind the rest of the world and some of the lowest levels of registration are found in Chad (12 per cent) or Guinea-Bissau (24 per cent).

“Governments must scale up proven solutions to improve birth registration, if they are to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target on making every child count”, stressed Marie-Pierre Poirier.

Barriers to registration globally include lack of knowledge on how to register a child’s birth, unaffordable fees for registering a birth or obtaining a birth certificate, and distance to the nearest registration facility. Traditional customs and practices in some communities – such as new mothers staying indoors or single mothers’ inability to register their children – may also deter or prevent formal birth registration in the permitted timeframe.

Even when children’s births are registered, possession of a birth certificate is less common, with 237 million children under-five globally – or slightly more than 1 in 3 – lacking this official proof of registration. 

In Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030, UNICEF calls for five actions to protect all children:

  • Provide every child with a certificate upon birth.
  • Empower all parents, including single parents, regardless of gender, to register their children at birth and for free during the first year of life.
  • Link birth registration to basic services, particularly health, social protection and education, as an entry point for registration.
  • Invest in safe and innovative technological solutions to allow every child to be registered, including in hard-to-reach areas.
  • Engage communities to demand birth registration for every child.

“Every child has a right to a name, a nationality and a legal identity, so any improvement in increased registration levels is welcome news,” said Fore. “But as we have just marked the 30th anniversary of these rights – as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – we must not stop until every child is counted.”

Video and photos available here for download

Notes to Editors:

Birth registration is the official recording of the occurrence and characteristics of a birth by the civil registrar within the civil registry, in accordance with the legal requirements of a country. A birth certificate is a vital record, issued by the civil registrar, that documents the birth of a child. Because it is a certified extract from the birth registration record, it proves that registration has occurred – making this document the first, and often only, proof of legal identity, particularly for children.

UNICEF global databases include birth registration estimates for 174 countries, primarily from nationally representative household surveys such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Other data sources in the global database include other national surveys, censuses and vital statistics from civil registration systems.

Media Contacts

Sandra Bisin

West and Central Africa Regional Chief of Communication

UNICEF

Tel: +221 77 819 23 00

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UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

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