Birth registration: The perils of being an uncounted child

What if you or your child was never issued a birth certificate? For millions of children around the world, the lack of this key document puts them at greater risk of abuse and leaves them without access to legal protection, healthcare, education, and other essentials.

By Jessica Bousquette, World Vision U.S.
Published May 22, 2014 at 07:00am PDT

One in three children — 230 million under the age of 5 — is significantly more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and lack access to education and health services, all because they do not have a simple piece of paper: a birth certificate.

An uncounted child is a vulnerable child

A new report recently released by World Vision finds that many children are dying uncounted and invisible to the health services that could save their lives, because country governments and world leaders are failing to properly track vital data about children and their health.

While the report, Uncounted and Unreached (.pdf), highlights the need for increased access to healthcare and population data, the need for universal birth registration goes much deeper.

World Vision senior child protection adviser Jesse Eaves points out several categories of children who are often completely off the radar to their governments. These include:

  • Children not registered at birth due to their location
  • Children from ethnic minorities
  • Children with disabilities often hidden from their communities due to cultural stigma
  • Orphaned and homeless children
  • Displaced or refugee children
  • Children trafficked for sex or labor exploitation

Why does registration matter?

“Birth registration impacts all aspects of a child’s well-being,” explains Eaves. “Without documentation of an official name or nationality, children are often prevented from accessing healthcare such as immunizations, enrolling in school, and even receiving inheritance.”

Human traffickers seek out people who will not be missed — vulnerable and powerless individuals. A birth certificate helps protect children from human trafficking, child labor, early marriage, and underage conscription into armed forces.

If a child is abused, neglected, exploited, or exposed to violence, a birth certificate ensures his or her access to services and justice systems.

The Girls (and Boys) Count Act

According to Eaves, birth registration is a simple yet effective solution for reducing the vulnerability of children; but unfortunately, it often falls low on the list of a country’s priorities.

Sometimes all that’s needed is a nudge or support from the U.S. government to help create a functioning birth registration system.

Despite its name, the Girls Count Act (H.R. 3398) makes it U.S. policy to encourage other countries to ensure that both girls and boys of all ages are full participants in society.

This bipartisan bill elevates birth registration in U.S. policy by encouraging enhanced training in developing countries to address registration. It also authorizes the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support programs that promote sustainable registration systems and ensure children are able to access health, education, and social services.

“It’s critical that, amidst all the other efforts to protect children, this root cause of so much vulnerability not be overlooked,” Eaves explains. “These efforts will help strengthen and sustain the work World Vision and so many other organizations are doing to ensure every child is counted, recognized, and protected.”

Learn more

Three ways you can help

  • Please pray for vulnerable children whose identities are unknown to their governments because their births weren’t properly documented. Pray that leaders in the United States would recognize the need for universal birth registration and encourage other countries to implement it.
  • Contact your representative to voice your support for The Girls Count Act, a bill to prioritize birth registration around the world.
  • Sponsor a child today. Your ongoing support of a child in need will help ensure that he or she is known, recognized, and cared for through interventions like clean water, medical care, education, nutritious food, safe shelter, and more; you’ll also offer your sponsored child an opportunity to become an active participant in his or her community.

Highlights

  • One in three children under age 5 do not have birth certificates.
  • Without documentation, children are often prevented from accessing healthcare and enrolling in school.
  • Birth certificates also help protect children from human trafficking, child labor, early marriage, and underage conscription into armed forces.
  • If passed, the Girls Count Act (H.R. 3398) will make it U.S. policy to encourage other countries to ensure that both girls and boys are counted.

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