Despite significant increase in birth registration, a quarter of the world’s children remain ‘invisible’

Wednesday, 11 December 2019 – The number of children whose births are officially registered has increased significantly worldwide, yet 166 million children under-five, or 1 in 4, remain unregistered, according to a new report released by UNICEF today on its own 73rd birthday.
 
There are still children in Australia who are not registered at birth or cannot access their birth certificate.
 
“Birth registration is a fundamental human right,” said Nicole Breeze, Director of Australian Programs and Child Rights at UNICEF Australia. “Without a birth certificate, individuals can face difficulties enrolling in school, accessing health services and social security, gaining employment, obtaining a tax file number, applying for private and public housing, obtaining a driver’s licence, joining sporting clubs, and opening a bank account, “
 
“We know that of those whose births are not registered, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children in out-of-home care, children born in remote areas and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are overrepresented,” Ms Breeze said.
 
In Western Australia it has been estimated that 1 in 6 births Aboriginal births are not registered. An analysis of birth-related data conducted by Queensland Health in 2014 found that, in Queensland, Indigenous births were being registered at a significantly lower rate than non-Indigenous births. That is, approximately 15-18 per cent of births to Indigenous mothers were not registered compared with an under-registration rate of 1.8 per cent for births to non-Indigenous mothers.
 
Birth registration rates in NSW have been historically low, and some progress is now being made, primarily through the NSW Government’s ‘Count Every Child’ initiative. In July 2019 the NSW Attorney General reported that Aboriginal births registered in NSW climbed by 53 per cent last year with a record 7,491 births recorded.
 
UNICEF’s international report, Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track?, released today, analyses data from 174 countries. It shows that the proportion of children under-five registered globally is up around 20 per cent from 10 years ago – increasing from 63 per cent to 75 per cent.
 
“We have come a long way but too many children are still slipping through the cracks, uncounted and unaccounted for,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “A child not registered at birth is invisible – non-existent in the eyes of the government or the law.”
 
Global progress is driven largely by great strides in South Asia, particularly in 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, UNICEF has worked with the Government of India to prioritize birth registration across states by increasing and improving access to registration centres, training officials and community workers and rolling out public awareness programmes, particularly amongst the most vulnerable communities.
 
By contrast, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind the rest of the world, with Ethiopia (3 per cent), Zambia (11 per cent*) and Chad (12 per cent) recording the lowest levels of registered births.
 
The report notes that nearly 1 in 3 countries – accounting for around a third of the global population of children under the age of 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.
 
Barriers to registration globally include lack of knowledge on how to register a child’s birth, unaffordable fees for registering a birth or obtaining a birth certificate, fees for late registration and long distances to the nearest registration facility. Traditional customs and practices in some communities – such as new mothers staying indoors – may also deter or prevent formal birth registration in the permitted timeframe.
 
Even when children are registered, possession of a birth certificate is less common, with 237 million children under-five globally – or slightly more than 1 in 3 – lacking this official proof of registration. 
 
In Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030, 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 children at birth.
 - Link birth registration to other systems to facilitate every child’s right to services including health, social protection and education.
 - Invest in safe and innovative technological solutions to facilitate birth registration.
 - Engage communities to demand birth registration for every child. 

“Every child has a right to a name, a nationality and a legal identity, so any improvement in increased registration levels is welcome news,” said Fore. “But as we have just marked the 30th anniversary of these rights – as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – we must not stop until every child is counted.”
 
Video and photos available for download here

For more information, please contact:
Brinsley Marlay, UNICEF Australia, 0403 604 182, bmarlay@unicef.org.au