According to UNICEF, approximately 230 million children under the age of 5 have not had their births registered, of whom 85 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and 135 million are in Asia. Birth registration ought to be free and universal. For many, being without birth registration leads to statelessness, which, according to UNHCR, affects at least 10 million people worldwide, who then are unable to access their basic rights.
There are many barriers to accessing birth registration, including accessibility, cost, poor governance, awareness among parents and literacy, and there are many ways in which Anglicans can help to make birth registration a real possibility for more of the world’s children.
At their meeting in May 2014 the Anglican Communion Standing Committee identified Birth Registration as one of the two priorities for the work of the Anglican Communion Representative to the United Nations Institutions in Geneva.
The International Anglican Family Network and the Mothers’ Union are working to encourage birth registration, through the unique opportunities offered by the ministry of baptism. Through working with the parents of babies brought for baptism, parish priests, catechists, children’s workers and mothers’ unions can respond in a small but hugely effective way, by encouraging and enabling registration, which also emphasises the unique value of every child, girl or boy.
A great example of the work that can be done by Anglicans can be seen in Uganda. In six dioceses, partnerships between the priests and lay readers of the Church of Uganda, together with the Mothers’ Union, UNICEF and the state’s Health Department, have lead to great work being done in registering the births of children. Through building the capacities of Mothers’ Union leaders and Church members to address the issue of birth registration, as well as ensuring that children under the age of 5 who are baptised in the Church are registered, large numbers of children have received birth certificate – including over 59,000 (67%) of the children in the area registered in the second quarter of the project.
To find out more about other organisations committed to registering the births of more children, see the links below:
UNICEF – The United Nations Children’s Fund works to protect children throughout the world, to help children to overcome the obstacles of poverty, discrimination, violence and disease which face them, and to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child
International Anglican Family Network is one of the international networks of the Anglican Communion, which facilitates the exchange of information about the challenges facing families in different countries and cultures, and the work being undertaken by Christians and Churches throughout the communion.
VIVA is a network of Churches and community organizations focused on bringing about lasting change for children.
CRANE – The Children at Risk Action Network’s mission is to bring together child focused Christian organisations in and around Kampala, Uganda, to advocate for change, share resources, empower children, build capacity, achieve sustainability and provide the best quality care possible for children.
Birth registration gives a child a legal identity, a right set out in the Conventions on the Right of the Child, as well as being an important way of recognising the individuality of a child. It can be a hugely powerful step towards ensuring the protection of children from harm. With their birth registered, a child is less likely to become a stateless person, as birth certificates are used as the basis for having a nationality. A child may be more likely to be able to enrol in school, to gain access to services such as healthcare, immunisations and social security. It is also the basis for proving the age of a child, which can help to stop early marriage, trafficking of children, child labour, the recruitment of child soldiers, and can ensure that they are treated as a child, rather than as an adult, by the law. Without a birth certificate, a child may be unable to take part in society, for example through voting and finding employment, marrying, paying taxes, having identity documents, a mobile phone or a driving license: all the things which enable full participation in adult life. Birth registration is also important not only for the child, but for the planning of services in a country, for establishing an accurate electoral roll and for planning the provision of health and education services.
A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights gives an up-to-date summary of global rates of birth registration; an analysis of the human rights consequences of non-registration; a discussion of the barriers to access to birth registration and recommendations to ensure universal implementation of the right, as well as examples of good practices in countries such as Mali, Iraq, Cambodia and Australia.
According to the Human Rights Council, there are still 27 countries with nationality laws that discriminate against women. One of the primary effects of these laws is to make it impossible under certain circumstances (for example, unwillingness or inability on the part of the father) for a child to be registered, as the mother may not pass on her own nationality. This scenario leads to statelessness for the child. Among other things, such a situation can make it impossible for the child to work legally, as in the case of Merlyn in the Philippines, or to access healthcare and education, as for Raman in Serbia. Although progress is being made in some places (for example Côte d’Ivoire), it is not always effective, and there is still much more to be done. Improving access to birth registration would be a huge step forward in combating the problem of statelessness.
Further information and background on the impact and realities of statelessness and birth registration can be found on the UNHCR website while an additional report by the World Bank contains an in-depth discussion on the issues. The UNHCR Executive Committee has released a conclusion on civil registration, paying particular attention to birth registration.