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One third of children under five don’t officially exist - UNICEF

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 11 Dec 2013 17:48 GMT
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Newborn babies lie in an overcrowded maternity ward in a hospital in the storm damaged town of Bogo, northern Cebu, 5 days after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines. November 13, 2013, REUTERS/Aubrey Belford
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Around one third of the world’s children under the age of five have not had their births registered and do not officially exist, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and neglect, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Wednesday.

“Birth registration is … key to guaranteeing that children are not forgotten, denied their rights or hidden from the progress of their nations,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta.

Without a birth certificate children may be excluded from education, healthcare and social services.

Birth registration, which provides proof of identity and age, can also help protect children from trafficking, sexual abuse, early marriage, child labour and enrolment in armed groups.

It also makes it easier to reunite children with their families if they become separated during natural disasters, conflicts or by exploitation, UNICEF said. Birth registration is also crucial for a country’s vital statistics, which are needed for sound social and economic planning.

A UNICEF report, Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, released on Wednesday, showed that the births of nearly 230 million children under five had never been registered.

The agency said it was helping several countries, including Uganda and Kosovo, to strengthen and simplify registration processes using mobile phone technology.

“Birth registration - and a birth certificate - is vital for unlocking a child’s full potential,” said Rao Gupta. “… if societies fail to count them, and don’t even recognise that they are there, they are more vulnerable to neglect and abuse.”

Last year, only around 60 percent of the world’s babies were registered at birth. The 10 countries with the lowest birth registration levels are: Somalia (3 percent), Liberia (4 percent), Ethiopia (7 percent), Zambia (14 percent), Chad (16 percent), Tanzania (16 percent), Yemen (17 percent), Guinea-Bissau (24 percent), Pakistan (27 percent) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (28 percent).

The children least likely to be registered include those from certain ethnic or religious groups, those living in rural or remote areas, and those from poor households or uneducated mothers.

Even when children are registered, many have no proof of registration. In Eastern and Southern Africa, only about half of registered children have a birth certificate. Globally, one in seven registered children does not have a certificate.

UNICEF said programmes need to address the reasons why families do not register children, including prohibitive fees, lack of awareness of relevant laws or processes and cultural barriers.

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