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Count them all in! Action needed to ensure unregistered children do not fall through the cracks of development

Written by REJECT Correspondent
A happy mother who has just registered her child. Children who are not registered miss out on important life opportunities A happy mother who has just registered her child. Children who are not registered miss out on important life opportunities . Picture: Courtesy

Millions of children around the world cannot prove who and how old they are. Hence, Governments and development actors are unable to plan for their present and future needs.

According to a report released by Plan International in a new research paper called: “Birth Registration and Children’s Rights: A Complex Story” this poses serious implications for reducing poverty in developing nations.

Out of about 230 million children under the age of five that have not had their births registered, 85 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 135 million in the Asia-Pacific region. More than 100 developing countries still do not have functioning systems that can support efficient civil registration and vital statistics.

“Unregistered children are at greater risk of exclusion. Registering them creates an official trace of their existence, which means they become visible and are accounted for. They can be protected by laws against exploitation and abuse, and they are acknowledged when development plans are drawn and implemented”, said Roland Angerer, Plan International’s Regional Director for Eastern and South Africa.

“At the same time we must be mindful of possible unintended consequences of excessively rigid efforts to achieve universal birth registration,” explains Angerer. He adds: “When, for example, a birth certificate is considered a strict requirement for going to school or taking exams, we create barriers to the right of education. We have to count them all in so that they can enjoy all their rights.”   

“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, head of Research at Plan International.

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.

“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 on governments and development partners to use the research findings to inform, plan and implement birth registration interventions,” explains Nicoleta Panta, Count Every Child Manager at Plan.

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.

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 right of children and should be achieved through an effective and rights-based civil registration and vital statistics 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 civil registration and vital statistics systems, including every child’s right to birth registration.

 This article was originally published in the Reject Special Issue 98 - Celebrating the African Child

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