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. The Girls Count Act would help change this.
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.
A bill currently before Congress, the Girls Count Act, would help ensure that more children around the world are recongized and protected. Introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the Senate passed the Girls Count Act by unanimous consent on May 22.
The companion bill, sponsored by Representative Steve Chabot, (R-OH), is gaining momentum in the House, with the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently backing the bill without opposition.
A report 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.
Child protection expert Jesse Eaves pointed out several categories of children who are often completely off the radar to their governments. These include:
“Birth registration impacts all aspects of a child’s well-being,” explained 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.
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 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.”