UNICEF: 1 in 3 Children under Five do not Officially Exist

UNICEF released today a new report showing that 230 million children under five—one out of every three children in this age group globally—have not been registered at birth. Tens of millions more are without a birth certificate.

Organization releases report on importance of birth registration and certificates

NEW YORK (December 10, 2013) – UNICEF released today a new report showing that 230 million children under five—one out of every three children in this age group globally—have not been registered at birth. Tens of millions more are without a birth certificate.

Unregistered children and those without identification documents are often excluded from accessing education, health care and social security. If children are separated from their families during natural disasters, conflicts or as a result of exploitation, reuniting them is made more difficult by the lack of official documentation.

“Birth registration—and a birth certificate—is vital for unlocking a child’s full potential,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.  “All children are born with enormous potential. But if societies fail to count them, and don’t even recognize that they are there, they are more vulnerable to neglect and abuse. Inevitably, their potential will be severely diminished.”

Last year, only about 60 percent of all babies born were registered at birth globally. The rates vary significantly across regions, with the lowest levels of birth registration found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The 10 countries with the lowest birth registration rates are Somalia (3%), Liberia (4%), Ethiopia (7%), Zambia (14%), Chad (16%), United Republic of Tanzania (16%), Yemen (17%), Guinea-Bissau (24%), Pakistan (27%) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (28%).

The new UNICEF report, Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, collects statistical analysis spanning 161 countries and presents the latest available country data and estimates on birth registration.

Even when children are registered, many have no proof of registration. Globally, one in seven registered children does not possess a birth certificate. In some countries, this is due to prohibitive fees. In other countries, birth certificates are not issued and no proof of registration is available to families.

“Birth registration is more than just a right. It’s how societies first recognize and acknowledge a child’s identity and existence,” said Rao Gupta. “Birth registration is also key to guaranteeing that children are not forgotten, denied their rights or hidden from the progress of their nations.”

Birth registration, as an essential component of a country’s civil registry, also strengthens the quality of vital statistics, aiding planning and government efficiency.

According to UNICEF, unregistered births are a symptom of the inequities and disparities in a society. The children most affected by these inequities include children from certain ethnic or religious groups, children living in rural or remote areas, children from poor households or children of uneducated mothers. 

Programs need to address the reasons that families do not register children, including prohibitive fees, unawareness of the relevant laws or processes, cultural barriers, and the fear of further discrimination or marginalization.

UNICEF is using innovative approaches to support governments and communities in strengthening their civil and birth registration systems. In Kosovo, for example, the UNICEF Innovations Lab has developed an efficient, effective, and low-cost means of identifying and reporting unregistered births using RapidSMS, an open-source mobile-phone based platform.

In Uganda, the government—with support from UNICEF and the private sector—is implementing a solution called MobileVRS that uses mobile phone technology to complete birth registration procedures in minutes, a process that normally takes months.

“Societies will never be equitable and inclusive until all children are counted,” added Rao Gupta. “Birth registration has lasting consequences, not only for the child’s wellbeing, but also for the development of their communities and countries.”

UNICEF also released today A Passport to Protection: A guide to birth registration programming, a handbook for those working on birth registration, which provides background information, general principles and a guide for programming.

Video stories and photos are available at http://weshare.unicef.org/mediaresources 

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About UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, please visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:

Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org