All Children Count: Advocating for Birth Registration

January 29, 2020

1 in 4 children around the world lack legal proof of identity. UNICEF advocates for every child's right to a name, a birth certificate and a nationality.

Imagine that 1 in 4 of your friends, family or neighbors didn't have proof of their birth. How would their lives be impacted? What challenges would they face?

According to UNICEF's recently released report, Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track?, the number of children whose births are officially registered has increased significantly worldwide, yet 166 million children under age 5 — 1 in 4 — remain unregistered.

A father holds his newborn baby daughter and her newly issued birth certificate at the UNICEF-supported hospital in Sibiti, in the south of Congo, on February 20, 2019. © UNICEF/UN0281985/Dejongh

A birth certificate is a child's ticket to education and other vital services

For those of us who have birth certificates, it's hard to imagine why some babies or young children lack proof of their identity. But many barriers exist which prevent easy attainment of a birth certificate. For instance, the nearest registration facility may be very far away. New parents may lack information on how or why to register the birth of their child, or be unable to pay prohibitive registration fees. Given these factors, it's not surprising to learn that children from the poorest households are less likely to have their births registered than those from the richest households. 

A nurse registers a baby as part of the National Birth Registration Campaign in Naypyitaw, Myanmar on June 4, 2018. © UNICEF/UN0233097/Htet

A baby is more likely to be registered at birth if her mother has a high school education 

Globally, about 80 percent of children under age 5 whose mothers have at least a high school education have their births registered, compared to just 60 percent of children whose mothers have no formal schooling. Moreover, single mothers or married mothers without a marriage license are more likely to face discrimination in registering their children's births.

These parents, photographed in September 2019, registered their children's births in Anse d'Hainault, Haiti. © UNICEF/UNI266214/Meddeb

Children from the poorest households are least likely to have their births registered

The U.S. Government has been engaged in this issue through the Girls Count Act, a bill signed into law (PL 114-24) on June 12, 2015, which formally made birth registration a priority in foreign assistance programs — for boys and girls alike. UNICEF USA was proud to support the Girls Count Act by mobilizing volunteers across the country through a years-long effort. And, as the latest UNICEF report reveals, girls and boys are now being counted equally in practically all countries with available data.

Still, continued work is needed to ensure that every child is counted. By mandating the Department of State and USAID to submit relevant evaluations and reports to Congress, the law requires important information on if and how foreign assistance programs are reaching the most vulnerable, unregistered children. As the report notes, "Having legal identification is also critical to protecting children from violence and exploitation." Legal identification can even provide a layer of protection against child trafficking, child labor and child marriage.

A newborn is identified before birth registration according to UNICEF baby-friendly policy at the General Hospital of San Juan de Dios in Guatemala City on October 19, 2019. Every child has the right to be registered immediately after birth, to have a name and to acquire a nationality, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. © UNICEF/UNI235515/Willocq

Legal proof of identity protects children from violence, exploitation and trafficking

UNICEF supporters living in the U.S. have the power to both push for the passage of laws and hold our government accountable for implementing those laws. The requirements put forth in the law are set to end this year, yet more information is still needed on how the U.S. government has acted on this critical issue. Girls Count was a tremendous first step in ensuring lifelong protection for children worldwide, but as advocates, we must continue to speak out and work together to demand that the U.S. government is both walking the walk and talking the talk. Only then can U.S. foreign assistance account for all children to help provide each and every child a fair start in life.

To learn more ways you can call on U.S. government officials to support children, visit the UNICEF USA Action Center.

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Top photo: Nine-month-old Mubashir waits to be vaccinated at the UNICEF-supported Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, on August 17, 2019. Birth registration helps children gain access to health care and other vital services. © UNICEF/UN0339482/Frank Dejongh