|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on UNICEF’s New Birth Registration Report
The births of nearly 230 million children under the age of five years, about one third of that category worldwide, had never been registered, a senior official of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.
Being unregistered or lacking a birth certificate meant that “the child officially does not exist”, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta said at a Headquarters press conference as she launched a report titled “Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and Trends in Birth Registration”, the first such paper released since 2005. While many took birth registration for granted, “globally, millions of newborns are not so lucky”, she said, noting that even among registered children, one in seven had no birth certificate.
Describing birth certificates as literally passports to vital services such as education, health care and social security, she said that without them, children could become more vulnerable to exploitation, including child marriage, child labour and recruitment into armed forces. A birth certificate could help in tracing unaccompanied and separated children, facilitate safer migration and prevent statelessness, she said, adding that birth registration also allowed countries to ensure adequate planning and allocation of resources because it offered vital statistics about their own populations.
She said the 10 countries with the lowest birth registration rates were Somalia (3 per cent), Liberia (4 per cent), Ethiopia (7 per cent), Zambia (14 per cent), Chad (16 per cent), United Republic of Tanzania (16 per cent), Yemen (17 per cent), Guinea-Bissau (24 per cent), Pakistan (27 per cent) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (28 per cent). India was home to nearly one in three unregistered children, she added.
UNICEF was working in more than 80 countries to improve birth registration within civil registry, she said. In 2012 alone, 13 million children had been registered as a result of the agency’s actions, she added.
It was important to address the reasons why parents did not register their children. Barriers included an absence of policies, poor accessibility, cost and a lack of awareness.
Accompanying Ms. Gupta were Claudia Cappa, UNICEF Statistics and Monitoring Specialist and author of the report, and Kendra Gregson, Senior Adviser and Child Protection with the Fund’s Social Welfare and Justice Systems Programmes.
In response to a series of questions, Ms. Gupta said only about 50 countries had a well-functioning civil registry system, underlining the importance of investment in that area.
Ms. Cappa said gender disparity was not an issue because boys and girls were equally unregistered around the world. However, the gender issue still existed in some countries, where single mothers were not allowed to register their children.
Ms. Gupta said UNICEF had helped Nigeria create a centralized registration system using low-cost SMS mobile phone technology.
Ms. Gregson said Côte d’Ivoire had been able to improve birth registration significantly in the years after the conflict there, emphasizing that it was possible to address the issue, even under such difficult circumstances. UNICEF lacked data on the rate of unregistered children being exploited for child marriage, child labour and recruitment into armed forces. Proof of age was crucial to address those violations, she pointed out.
Ms. Cappa said the report covered 80 per cent of the under-five population in 161 countries, and the high level of coverage justified generalizing the results. UNICEF was trying to increase coverage by providing technical assistance to countries. However, single mothers in Gambia, Bhutan, Nepal and Nicaragua faced some barriers to registering their children, she said, stressing that legislative measures must be modified in those countries.
Ms. Gupta said it was vital that Governments ensure that birth registration was free of charge and accessible to all. While India’s birth registration level was 41 per cent nationwide, there was a huge gap between states with the highest rates and those with the lowest, due mainly to accessibility and infrastructure issues.
Ms. Gregson said UNICEF did not intervene in disputes over the detention and incarceration of children, but made its contribution through advocacy.
Ms. Cappa attributed high registration rates in Latin American and Caribbean countries to regional goals and initiatives. Brazil had made considerable progress, having seen its registration rates rise from 64 per cent to 93 per cent over the past decade. The country was also closing gaps within, she added.
Ms. Gupta stressed that a high registration rate was possible in low-income countries.
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