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UNICEF’s Birthday Wish: A Birth Certificate for Every Child

A Bangladeshi mother holds her child and his birth registration card.

Hoimanti Bhaumik holds her son and his birth certificate at the Mirtinga Tea Estate in Maulavi Bazar, Sylhet, Bangladesh. In 2006, birth registration among Bangladeshi children under five was just 10 percent. A UNICEF-supported online birth registration system has dramatically increased that percentage. ©UNICEF/BANA2012-02020/Mawa

UNICEF turns 67 today, and it marked its birthday with the release of Every Child’s Birth Right. This report focuses a spotlight on the “Invisible Children,” the 230 million children under the age of five who lack birth certificates.

One in three children does not officially exist

Around the world, one in three children under the age of five lacks birth registration, according to the report. More than half of these children live in Asia. Another 36 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa.

India has the greatest number of unregistered children, 71 million, and Somalia has the highest percentage — only 3 percent of children under five are registered. In the industrialized world, birth registration is nearly universal.

Birth certificates: first stop to health and education

Birth registration is both a right — recognized in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child — and a necessity.

Without one, a child is officially invisible — with no public record of name or nationality, at risk of being denied health care and school enrollment. Lacking legal proof of age, a child is more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, child labor, child trafficking, under-age military service, illegal adoption and early marriage.

“Birth registration is incredibly important as the gateway to all other essential services … ” Erica Kochi, co-head of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit, told Time Magazine. “It’s the first stop to health services, it’s the first stop to education, and as you move forward it’s the first stop to have citizenship and the right to vote.”

UNICEF: fighting to have every child counted

“We must count every child,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, “because every child counts.”

UNICEF tailors its global birth registration efforts to local needs — overcoming culture practices that delay newborn naming, prohibitive fees, hostile bureaucracies — and even war.

During the 2011 Libyan conflict, when thousands of families were fleeing the war-torn country, UNICEF helped set up emergency birth registration in transit camps on the Libya-Tunisia border.

In Bangladesh, where birth registration rates for children were barely 10 percent in 2006, UNICEF supported a new online information system that has helped to more than triple registration.

In Uganda, UNICEF helped implement MobileVRS, a mobile phone-based technology that completes birth registration procedures in minutes rather than months.

Celebrate UNICEF’s birthday. Please support the organization and its essential work to count every child.

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Bangladeshi children stand with their birth registration cards.

Children stand with their birth registration cards at Mirtinga Tea Estate in Maulavi Bazar, Sylhet, Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2012-02020/Mawa

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