Children play under a water tap during recess at a UNICEF-supported primary school inside Bukasi Internally Displaced People's camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria on February 28, 2017 | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF
Children play under a water tap during recess at a UNICEF-supported primary school inside Bukasi Internally Displaced People's camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria on February 28, 2017 | Photo: ANSA/UNICEF

In a new report, UNICEF says the births of 166 million children worldwide have never been recorded. Although the number of birth registrations has increased in recent years, in Nigeria, for instance, up to 17 million children remain "invisible". UNICEF warned that without proof of identity, children are often excluded from accessing education, health care and other "vital services."

According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, the births of 166 million children under age 5 (about 1 in 4) globally have never been recorded. 87% of those children live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF said in a new report on global birth registration released this week.

Progress has been achieved primarily in the last 10 years and has reached the poorest children in most regions. In Nigeria, for instance, the number of officially registered births has increased significantly in recent years: from 30% in 2013 to 43% in 2018.

The reason for the increase in Nigeria, according to UNICEF, is integrating birth registration into health services. At the same time, about 17 million children under age five (one in five) remain unregistered, UNICEF said. 

"We have come a long way in Nigeria, and ensuring that children are registered through the health services is making a big difference, but still too many children are slipping through the cracks," said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF representative in Nigeria, in a statement.

"These children are nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law. Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from accessing education, health care and other vital services, and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse," Hawkins said.
237 million children under 5 lack birth certificate

Worldwide, 237 million children under the age of five lack official proof of registration in the form of a birth certificate, the UNICEF report states. According to the report titled "Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track?," possession of a birth certificate is less common than registration: Of all children under age 1 worldwide, roughly 3 in 10 (about 40 million) have not had their births registered.

Among infants, around 4 in 10 globally (about 56 million) lack a birth certificate.

Analyzing data from 174 countries, the report shows that the proportion of children under age five registered globally is up around 12% from 11 years ago - increasing from 63% to 75% today. In West and Central Africa, under-five registration increased in 10 years from 39% in 2006 to 51% today -- despite the multiple challenges the region is facing.

"Birth registration in West and Central Africa remained stagnant for a long time, leaving millions of children without their basic right to legal identity," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "This situation has now changed and millions more children are registered at birth," Poirier added.

Despite progress, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind the rest of the world. In fact, some of the lowest levels of registration are found in Chad (12%) and Guinea-Bissau (24%).

Actions requested by UNICEF

In its report, UNICEF calls for 5 measures to protect all children:

  • Providing every child with a certificate upon birth;
  • empowering all parents, including single parents, regardless of gender, to register their children at birth and for free during the first year of life;
  • linking birth registration to basic services, particularly health, social protection and education;
  • investing in safe and innovative technological solutions to allow every child to be registered, including in hard-to-reach areas; and
  • engaging communities to demand birth registration for every child.
"Every child has a right to a name, a nationality and a legal identity," said Peter Hawkins, aforementioned UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
 

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