Millions of children could be going unregistered as mothers around the world face widespread discrimination when it comes to birth registration, says child rights organisation Plan International.
A study commissioned by Plan in 50 developing countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean shows that even where legal provisions exist, mothers routinely suffer multiple barriers to birth registration due to local attitudes and discriminatory cultural practices.
“Birth registration is every child’s basic right. It is not enough to have signed up to international conventions or introduced legislation affording women rights if governments don’t take the necessary measures to address discrimination in practice,” said Gorel Bogarde Plan’s Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns.
“States must do everything in their power to remove the barriers women face in registering their children, including the specific hurdles faced by those women who are the most marginalised.”
The study, conducted by Plan as part of its global campaign on birth registration - Count Every Child, found that patriarchal attitudes make it difficult, even impossible, for women to register their child without the consent of their husband or other senior members of the family.
In several countries, including Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Sudan, the father has the primary responsibility for registering a child. It is only in his absence that the mother would do so. In Burkina Faso, although the law states that anyone can register a child’s birth, traditional practices allow only the male head of the family to register.
“It is shocking to see from Plan’s report that despite giving birth, mothers were prevented from registering their babies in so many countries. I have two daughters and a son and I want them to be equally able to register their children. Together with Plan I call on the Governments to change their laws and practices and help mothers register every child,” said Anil Kapoor, internationally acclaimed actor and active supporter of Plan’s Count Every Child campaign.
Single mothers face even greater difficulties in registering births due to shame and stigma attached to their status in their countries. In Sierra Leone, a child born out of wedlock cannot be registered if it is not acknowledged by the father.
The study found that due to societal prejudice unmarried mothers may not register births in countries like Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Guinea Bissau, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In countries like Bangladesh the dishonour and threat of violence associated with children born out of wedlock can be so strong that mothers sometimes see no option but to abandon the child.
In Sudan, adultery is still a capital offence. Unless an unmarried pregnant woman can prove she was raped, she can be arrested, which implies that unmarried mothers are unlikely to register the birth of their child. In Cameroon, an unmarried woman needs two witnesses to testify to the paternity of her child for a birth certificate to be issued.
“Birth registration is the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence. Without it, they are invisible to the authorities and may be denied other rights, including right to health care and education. They are also more vulnerable to being trafficked or forced into hazardous labour or underage marriage,” said Ms Bogarde.
- Founded 75 years ago, Plan is a global child rights and community development organisation with programmes in 50 developing countries across Asia, Africa, and the Americas aimed at lifting millions of children out of poverty.
- Each year around 50 million of the world’s newborn are not registered, primarily in developing countries. In South Asia alone, 23 million under-fives are not registered, while the sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentage (66%) of unregistered under-fives.
- In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa only a third of all children under the age of five are registered at birth. In some countries like Bangladesh, Liberia and Ethiopia the birth registration figure for under-fives stands at ten per cent or less.
- Plan has been leading a global campaign for universal birth registration since 2005 and has so far facilitated registration of more than 40 million people- mostly children, in 32 countries. The organisation’s advocacy work has led to improved laws in 10 countries making 153 million children eligible for free birth certificates.
- For full report of the study commissioned by Plan and conducted by the Centre for Rural Childhood, Perth College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland, visit: www.perth.uhi.ac.uk/ruralchildhood
The report will be available online from March 8.