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One quarter of the world’s children are ‘invisible’ – UNICEF

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The number of children whose births are officially registered has risen significantly, yet 166 million under-5s – one in four – remain unregistered, says UNICEF.

A report, Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track?, marked UNICEF’s 73rd birthday by analysing data from 174 countries to show that the proportion of the under-5s population registered globally is up around 20 per cent from 10 years ago, from 63 to 75 per cent.

UNICEF says global progress is driven largely by ‘great strides’ made in South Asia, especially Bangladesh, India and Nepal. In India, the proportion of registered children rose from 41 per cent in 2005-2006 to 80 per cent in 2015-2016. In recent years the charity has worked with the Indian government to prioritise birth registration by increasing and improving access to registration centres, training schemes and public awareness campaigns, particularly among vulnerable communities.

‘Children are often excluded from education’

In contrast, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa are lagging behind the rest of the world, with Ethiopia (three per cent), Zambia (11 per cent) and Chad (12 per cent) showing the lowest levels of globally-registered births.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director for UNICEF, said: “We have come a long way but too many children are still slipping through the cracks, uncounted and unaccounted for. A child not registered at birth is invisible – nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law. Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from education, health care and other vital services, and are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

UNICEF calls for five actions to protect all children:

  • Provide every child with a certificate upon birth
  • empower all parents, regardless of gender, to register their child at birth
  • Link birth registration to other systems
  • Invest in safe and innovative technologies to make registrations possible
  • Encourage communities to demand birth registration

The report shows that nearly one in three countries – equating to around a third of the global population of children under five – will need to urgently speed up progress in order to meet the target of providing legal identity for all, including birth registration, as set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

‘Five actions to protect all children’

Barriers to registration include lack of knowledge on how to register a child’s birth, the expense of registering a birth or obtaining a birth certificate and long distances to the nearest registration facility.

Author: Simon Weedy

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