Hidden away in drawers, tucked in the safety of our parents' homes, or perhaps even lost, many of us have birth certificates that we hardly give a second thought to unless we desperately need them.
But consider the millions of children across the globe for whom this seemingly small piece of paper holds the power to unlock their fundamental rights or leave them unrecognized in their own countries.
"It is critical that all children are registered at birth to ensure their health and wellbeing. Without a birth certificate, a child is at greater risk of statelessness and exclusion from essential services including health care and education."
What is birth registration?
Birth registration is the official recording of a birth by a government authority. Once a child is registered, a birth certificate is a document issued by the state to the parent or caregiver as proof of this registration.
In an ideal scenario, birth registration and birth certificates would go hand in hand. However, in some countries, the procedures for registering a child and obtaining birth certificates can differ or be impacted by barriers including a lack of resources and investment in accurate and comprehensive civil registration systems.
Today, one in four children under the age of five are not registered at birth around the world. And even when they are, many may not have proof of registration or a birth certificate to verify their identity and age.
Why is birth registration important?
The first step to securing a child's future is giving them a legal identity. Birth registration is a fundamental right of every child and helps to ensure that every child has access to basic services and protection.
Denise, a 21-year-old mother of three, gave birth to Nelson at a health centre in the south of Chad, and returned to receive his birth certificate, knowing how crucial it was for Nelson.
"My first two children do not have birth certificates. In the past you could not declare in the hospital, and it was always postponed to go to the municipality. Now it is much easier. They do it at birth, and you receive it during a postnatal visit. But my husband is currently busy declaring the other children. The oldest is four and needs it to enrol in school."
A birth certificate is more than just a piece of paper. It's a symbol of hope, of opportunity, and of protection. It gives children a sense of identity, a connection to their family, and a place in their community.
Fatime, 30, has registered all four of her children, including Hamdan. “I’m aware about the importance of a birth certificate,” says Fatime.
Whilst education is a fundamental right of every child, many children may be denied access to school without a birth certificate. They are necessary for education as they prove a child's age and identity, enabling enrollment and ensuring equal opportunities for all children.
What happens when an emergency hits?
Birth registration is not just a task for governments; it's a responsibility for communities too. UNICEF works with local partners to ensure families in every community can access birth registration services, even when emergencies strike.
In March 2023, Vanuatu experienced two cyclones, causing significant damage to infrastructure and affecting almost half of the population. UNICEF responds rapidly to emergencies by working with local authorities and partners to record registrations and document individuals, including children, affected by the crisis. The aim is to ensure that those who have lost their birth certificates or other identification papers can receive new ones or temporary identification documents promptly.
In the aftermath of the cyclones, 5,882 people were registered, including 3,007 women and girls. At least 53% of the registrations were children under 18 and approximately 10% were for new birth certificates.
UNICEF is committed to reaching every child, even those in the most hard-to-reach areas when a crisis hits.
For every child, an identity
Every child counts, no matter where they are. Over thirty years, UNICEF has been a key global player in birth registration. In recent years, we worked with governments and communities worldwide to register more than 16 million births and issue birth certificates to over 13 million people.
UNICEF’s international report, Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track? calls for five actions to protect all children, including:
- Providing every child with a certificate upon birth.
- Empowering all parents, regardless of gender, to register their children at birth.
- Linking birth registration to other systems to facilitate every child’s right to services including health, social protection and education.
- Investing in safe and innovative technological solutions to facilitate birth registration.
- Engaging communities to demand birth registration for every child.
By 2030, UNICEF seeks to fulfil this promise because every child, everywhere, deserves an identity.
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