Urgent action needed to ensure millions of children unregistered at birth are kept in the picture

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Atik from Bangladesh with his birth certificate

26 May, London: Millions of children around the world can't prove who and how old they are, meaning governments and development partners are unable to plan for their present and future needs, reveals Plan International’s new research paper, Birth Registration and Children's Rights: A Complex Story. According to the children’s charity, this poses serious implications for reducing poverty in developing nations.

230 million unregistered

Around the world, about 230 million children under the age of five have not had their births registered, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia-Pacific, while more than 100 developing countries still do not have functioning systems that can support efficient civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems.

We initiated this research because there is a knowledge gap on birth registration and its relationship to other rights. Yet while the research has produced some solid evidence, it also raises many questions,” said Jacqueline Gallinetti, Plan's Head of Research.

In Vietnam, children need to have their births registered in order to access health services or to enrol in school. In Kenya, a birth certificate is required to take national exams. But this is not the case in other countries like India or Sierra-Leone.

Education barriers

“Unregistered children are at greater risk of exclusion, but at the same time we must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of birth registration initiatives. Government efforts to achieve universal birth registration can create barriers to education when they are rigidly implemented so as to make a birth certificate a strict requirement for going to school or taking exams,” said Nicoleta Panta, Plan's Count Every Child Manager.

“The key finding of our research is that the relationship between birth registration and children's rights is complex and context specific and so we call for governments and development partners to use the research findings to inform, plan and implement birth registration interventions,” she added.

In some countries, civil registration data is not used for planning, policy development or resource distribution because birth registration rates are low and the systems in place are unreliable. However, government officials aspire to use birth registration data for these purposes in the future and they recognise that civil registration data (including birth registration) is preferable to other forms of data because it is exact, continuous and real time.

Plan's research findings show that, although birth registration can promote children rights, it may also be used for government purposes that are not rights friendly, such as restricting the rights of migrant children.

Human rights principles

Plan therefore recommends that birth registration in developing countries be consistent with human rights principles and standards, and be viewed not as a solution to poverty in itself, but as a component of a broad range of issues, such as enforcement of the law and child protection.

Birth registration is a fundamental children’s right and should be part of an effective and rights-based CRVS system. The research suggests that these systems have the potential to benefit individuals, governments and the wider global community.

Plan therefore calls for greater investment in effective, comprehensive and rights-based CRVS systems, including every child's right to birth registration.

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