27 May 2014

Africa: Millions Without Birth Certificates At Risk, Reveals Research

opinion

Millions of children around the world can't prove who and how old they are, meaning governments and development partners are unable to plan for their needs, reveals new research by Plan. Around 230 million children under the age of 5 have not had their births registered, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia-Pacific, while more than 100 developing countries do not have functioning systems that support efficient civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems.

"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, Plan's Head of Research.

In Vietnam, children need to have their births registered in order to access health services or to enrol in school. In Kenya, a birth certificate is required to take national exams. But this is not the case in other countries such as India or Sierra-Leone.

Complex story

"Unregistered children are at greater risk of exclusion, but at the same time we must be mindful of the potential unintended consequences of birth registration initiatives. Government efforts to achieve universal birth registration can create barriers to education when they are rigidly implemented so as to make a birth certificate a strict requirement for going to school or taking exams," said Nicoleta Panta, Plan's Count Every Child Manager.

"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 for governments and development partners to use the research findings to inform, plan and implement birth registration interventions," she added.

Birth registration in emergencies

Plan has also released a new report on birth registration in emergencies, which reveals that children who do not have their births registered are at greater risk of abuse, exploitation, violence and neglect in disasters or emergencies.

Unregistered children are particularly at risk of exploitation as there is no legal evidence of their existence, making it more difficult to prosecute perpetrators. It can also be harder for unregistered children to receive aid.

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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