The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says one-quarter of the world’s children are not registered when they’re born, leaving them vulnerable and “invisible”.
This despite the number of registered births having significantly increased over the past decade. UNICEF reports that the births of one in four children under-five, or some 166 million children globally, have never been officially recorded.
Too many children are “slipping through the cracks,” said Henrietta Fore, the agency’s Executive Director: “A child not registered at birth is invisible – nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law,” she explained.
“Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from education, health care and other vital services, and are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”
The findings of the report released on Wednesday analyzes data from 174 countries, revealing that the proportion of children registered globally is up by around 20 percent from 10 years ago: rising from 63 percent to 75 percent.
Much of that progress is attributed to what UNICEF describes as “great strides” made in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
In India alone, the number of registered children rose from 41 percent in 2005-2006, to 80 percent a decade later. UNICEF has been working with the authorities to prioritize birth registration, including through training community workers and launching public awareness programmes in vulnerable areas.
Meanwhile, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa are falling behind the rest of the world, with three countries in the region—Ethiopia, Zambia and Chad—having the lowest levels of registered births globally.
Countries urged to step up action
UNICEF is pressing governments to take action, in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals-SDGs which call for all people to be provided a legal identity, including birth registration.
Nearly one in three countries will need to step up progress urgently to meet this target as they are home to around a third of under-fives globally.
Lack of knowledge on how to register a child’s birth, but also unaffordable registration fees, are some of the barriers which will need to be addressed. Traditional customs and practices, such as forcing new mothers to stay indoors, may also be a factor.