Millions of world’s children lack birth certificate

14:32 • 16.09.17

Would a 15-year-old girl be married off by her parents in violation of the law? Would another girl, who looks even younger, get justice after an alleged statutory rape at the hands of an older man?

In their impoverished communities in Uganda, the answers hinged on the fact that one girl had a birth certificate and the other didn’t. Police foiled the planned marriage after locating paperwork that proved the first girl was not 18 as her parents claimed. The other girl could not prove she was under the age of consent; her aunt, who’s also her guardian, has struggled to press charges against the builder who seduced and impregnated her, reports The Associated Press.

“The police were asking me many questions about proof of the girl’s birth date. How old she is? Where she goes to school,” said the aunt, Percy Namirembe, sitting in her tin-roofed shantytown home in Masaka near the shores of Lake Victoria in south-central Uganda. “I don’t have evidence showing the victim is not yet 18.”

As Namirembe spoke, in a room decorated with a collage of Christ and the Madonna, her niece sat beside her, her belly swollen and a vacant stare on her face.


In the developed world, birth certificates are often a bureaucratic certainty. However, across vast swaths of Africa and South Asia, tens of millions of children never get them, with potentially dire consequences in regard to education, health care, job prospects and legal rights. Young people without IDs are vulnerable to being coerced into early marriage, military service or the labor market before the legal age. In adulthood, they may struggle to assert their right to vote, inherit property or obtain a passport.

“They could end up invisible,” said Joanne Dunn, a child protection specialist with UNICEF.

With the encouragement of UNICEF and various non-governmental organizations, many of the worst-affected countries have been striving to improve their birth registration rates. In Uganda, volunteers go house to house in targeted villages, looking for unregistered children. Many babies are born at home, with grandmothers acting as midwives, so they miss out on the registration procedures that are being modernized at hospitals and health centers.


By UNICEF’s latest count, in 2013, the births of about 230 million children under age 5 — 35 percent of the world’s total — had never been recorded. Later this year, UNICEF plans to release a new report showing that the figure has dropped to below 30 percent due to progress in countries ranging from Vietnam and Nepal to Uganda, Mali and Ivory Coast.



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