The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today that the more than 70,000 Liberian children whose births were not recorded during the Ebola outbreak may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and risk the danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.
“No child should suffer the indignity, or not have protection from a state or other entities, and be unable to access basic services that are every child's right just because of a lack of a registered identity,” Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia, said in a press release.
“We cannot, and should never let that happen,” Mr. Yett said in Monrovia, the Liberian capital.
UNICEF said that birth registrations in 2014 and 2015 had dropped sharply from pre-Ebola levels.
In 2013, before the onset of the virus, the births of 79,000 children were registered. In 2014, when many health facilities had closed or had reduced services due to the Ebola response, the number of registrations fell to 48,000 – a 39 per cent decrease over the previous year.
And “just 700 children are reported to have had their births registered between January and May 2015,” according to UNICEF.
“Children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist,” according to Mr. Yett. “Without citizenship, children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and will be in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.”
Prior to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, UNICEF had helped increase birth registration rates in Liberia from 4 per cent – then the world’s second lowest rate – to 25 per cent in 2013.
Ebola resurfaced in Liberia last month after the country had been declared free of the disease, but there were no new cases reported according to the latest epidemic update, released Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In that same update, WHO reported that there are only seven confirmed cases of Ebola reported in the week to 26 July: 4 in Guinea and 3 in Sierra Leone.
“This is the lowest weekly total for over a year, and comes after 8 consecutive weeks during which case incidence had plateaued at between 20 and 30 cases per week,” WHO said, but cautioned that “although this decline in case incidence is welcome, it is too early to tell whether it will be sustained.”