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Last update: Dec 2013

World Fit For Children Goal
Develop systems to ensure the registration of every child at or shortly after birth, and fulfil his or her right to acquire a name and a nationality, in accordance with national laws and relevant international instruments

NEW Report


Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration presents a global assessment of birth registration levels. The publication spans 161 countries and presents the latest available data and estimates on birth registration. The report draws information from more than 300 data sources over a 20-year period. The publication also highlights global and regional trends and examines inequities in prevalence according to social, economic, demographic and other characteristics. The report also includes a section on programmatic and advocacy efforts undertaken by UNICEF and its partners.

The challenge

Birth registration is critical to future interventions

Birth registration is at the core of UNICEF's concerns as it represents the starting point for the recognition and protection of every child's fundamental right to identity and existence. It refers to the permanent and official recording of a child's existence by some administrative levels of the State that is normally coordinated by a particular branch of the government.


Children whose births are unregistered may not be able to claim the services and protections due to them on a full and equal basis with other children. Birth registration is crucial in the implementation of national policies and legislation establishing minimum ages for work, conscription and marriage. During emergencies, birth registration provides a basis for tracing separated and unaccompanied children.


A name and a nationality are human rights

Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child gives every child the right to be registered at birth by the State within whose jurisdiction the child is born. This means that States must make birth registration accessible and available to all children including asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants.


Drawing from the right to a name and nationality contained in article 7, the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 11 October 2002, 'A World Fit for Children' (A/RES/S-27/2) reaffirms governments’ commitment to ensure the birth registration of all children and to invest in educating and protecting children from harm and exploitation.


During the 1990s, there was growing awareness of the importance of prompt birth registration as an essential means of protecting a child's right to identity, as well as respect for other children's rights. The lack of a birth certificate may prevent a child from receiving health care, nutritional supplements and social assistance, and from being enrolled in school. Later in childhood, identity documents help protect children against early marriage, child labour, premature enlistment in the armed forces or, if accused of a crime, prosecution as an adult.


Rural poverty may negatively affect numbers of registered children

Children under five who have been denied the right to identity tend to be poor, live in rural areas, have limited access to health care, are not attending early childhood education, have higher levels of malnutrition and have higher mortality rates. They are likely to have been born without the support of a health professional or midwife, and their mothers have low levels of formal education and are less likely to have adequate knowledge of signs of some child illnesses and HIV/AIDS transmission.


There is some likelihood that these children will be registered at some point during their lives when the lack of a birth certificate prevents them from accessing education or health services, or realizing their right to legal protection as children. However, even this is not certain, because a significant number of children grow up without ever being registered.


Birth registration advocacy and programming have been based on the assumption that household wealth, access to government services and education of children's caretakers would increase the likelihood of a child being registered at birth. For example, most countries show that birth registration is highest among the richest 20 per cent of the population, confirming that poverty is associated with low levels of birth registration. Families with scarce resources may be deterred by fees for birth certification due to its direct costs and opportunity costs – time, absence from work and household responsibilities.


Integrated programmes may benefit birth registration rates

In areas where there are significant disparities in birth registration rates, interventions should target rural children living in poverty and their families. Decentralized national systems of birth registration, removal of fees and penalties, and awareness-raising campaigns can help reduce the numbers of children without birth registration. In countries where fees have been removed, the perceived barriers of expense can be mitigated by public awareness campaigns and innovative programmes such as mobile or house-to-house registration campaigns at the national level.


In countries where fees for birth registration and late penalties still apply, interventions should be targeted at policy and legal reform, an approach that was successfully undertaken in Plurinational State of Bolivia, where advocacy efforts have led to the removal of registration fees for all children under seven.


The lack of birth registration is one of many factors that can cause children to be disadvantaged in life. It is likely that the children who are not registered are the same children that are disadvantaged in terms of their socio-economic status, education, health care and protection. For example, there is a confluence between children who are registered and those who are fully vaccinated, receive vitamin A supplementation, and/or are taken to a health-care professional when ill. This demonstrates the potential for integration between birth registration and programming for maternal and child health and early childhood development.


It is important to devise programmes in such a way that children and caregivers who seek health-care and education services are given information on how to obtain birth registration documents. Conversely, health and education information and materials might be provided to parents and caretakers when they go to register their children's births.


Improving mothers' knowledge and education might benefit birth registration rates

There is a positive correlation between the mother's education level and her child's likelihood to be registered. The data also suggest a statistical association between a mother's health-related knowledge and children's levels of birth registration. A mother's knowledge of acute respiratory infection, HIV/AIDS and signs of a child's illness increase the likelihood of a child being registered at birth. This creates an imperative for programming around the education of girls and interventions to provide information to and increase the knowledge of women and families.


Information regarding non-registration is useful for programming purposes. For countries where the initial cost or late fees are listed as major barriers to registration, the national government may decide to adjust or abolish fees in order to increase registration rates. In countries where the population perceives distance to be the main barrier, mobile units may be employed to reach rural populations.


Alternatively, the government body responsible for registering births may choose to collaborate with religious organizations, national and international non-governmental organizations, the civil service, or the armed forces to increase coverage beyond the municipalities (i.e. in churches, schools, health centres, or camps for internally displaced persons).


Finally, for countries where the major reasons for non-registration are the lack, of knowledge about the importance of birth registration or the location of registration centres, it is necessary to conduct effective information campaigns that reach all sectors of society.