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Making Birth Registration a Rights Beacon

Published: Monday, July 11, 2011

For many of us, our first encounter with government occurs shortly after birth, before we even leave the care of the Health Professional. This introduction to the government's civil registration system makes us matter. For others, millions of others, it's as if they matter not; for their births are allowed to go unregistered by their own governments.

One cannot help but question the economic cost to a country which does not ensure that every one of its children is registered at birth, not to mention the real human costs. The impact of such negligence is far reaching, affecting every element of society including business.

By the Numbers

Let's begin with the statistics.

The numbers falling into this category are staggering. Among the under 5 population in Eastern and Southern Africa (a 21 country spread) 65% or 40 million children find themselves unregistered. In West and Central Africa this is the fate of 59% or 40 million children. And in South Asia, the numbers swell; over 113 million or 64% of the region's under 5 population have not had their births registered. In East Asia and the Pacific region, more than 42 million or 29% of the under-5's have been denied a birth certificate and remain outside the civil registration system (Source: UNICEF State of the World's Children 2011).

There are no obvious signs distinguishing those who have a birth certificate from those who do not. There are no graphic images to raise the alarm. But the resulting childhood story of inequity, vulnerability, marginalization and exploitation is one that lasts a lifetime for most of these children and disables them from being recognized among a country's assets.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the significance of Birth Registration and as such has designated article 7, one of 54 articles, to ensure it receives comprehensive coverage by this international treaty. The CRC makes it incumbent on the state to ensure all of its children are registered at birth.

Not Registered?

Children not registered at birth can be denied access to health care, immunization and an education. They are easily trafficked and exploited in numerous other ways. They are unable to defend their age to ensure they meet minimum age employment laws or conscription by the armed forces. Unable to obtain a passport, they can't travel. In one country, I recall ethnic minorities without birth certificates unable to board the public bus, forced to walk long distances or hitch a ride by some other means! In defence of their government's decision to not invest more in birth registration, one citizen exclaimed, "Why bother (to invest)? No one has any money to go anywhere anyway!" This is the voice of the fatalist.

Without a birth certificate, these individuals are unable to vote or own land and cannot open a bank account. In every other sense, they become a burden.

Planning and Budgeting

One of the primary purposes of a fully functioning birth registry is greater predictability and accuracy for planning and budgeting. By making sure every child has been accounted for, the greater the likelihood to budget for all children, not just some children, thereby reducing the dependency on external resources for financial support and then the costs associated with coordinating that aid once it arrives.

Transitioning from childhood to adulthood, the unregistered are forced into the shadow economy, unable to be legally employed. Working in the informal sector as they do, they undermine the productivity potential and the country's economic growth.

True; the state must do better to register its citizens and to protect their human rights. But corporations, too, can exert some influence over the state and press for urgency to change the status quo. By doing so, they also stand to gain.

Perhaps you know other ways corporations benefit from advancing human rights/child rights. Jot them down below and consider participating in the on-line consultation on business and the rights of the child through to July 15, 2011.

Enrich the dialogue. We all benefit when you share your own experiences. Thanks for dropping by!

photo credit: Simon Dean Media Natural Number 7 via flickr