The World

The Right to a Birth Certificate

A commentary by four specialists from UNICEF in the Lancet highlights a little-discussed public health issue, the registration of children at birth:

Globally, only 65% of all children younger than 5 years are registered. This means that there are nearly 230 million children worldwide who do not officially exist. More than half of them (59%) live in Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, 44% of children younger than 5 years have been registered, with levels ranging from 3% in Somalia to 95% in South Africa. Birth registration stands at only 39% in south Asia, the region with the largest overall number of births and children younger than 5 years. India is home to around one in three of all unregistered children worldwide.

Children without birth certificates are more likely to be denied health care or education and are more vulnerable to being placed into the labor market, marriages, the armed forces, or the adult legal system before they’re of age.

The European Union announced a 6 million euro project to fund birth registration in eight countries last year. Some nongovernmental organizations have also suggested using text message technology to distribute birth certificates in remote rural regions.