At Risk Because They Don't Exist

Feb 03, 2013

Two-thirds of children in South Asia are not registered at birth, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

1300 Millions of children across Asia are unregistered. PHOTO: David Swanson“Systems exist in most countries - although they often still fail to reach marginalized children and families. They work best where parents are able to quickly and easily register children relatively soon after birth with little or no cost to parents," she noted.

Governments responsible

Experts agree vital registration systems are a government’s responsibility that requires long-term commitment at the highest levels of government, strong leadership and political will.

“Because civil registration is the responsibility of so many different agencies, long-term commitment is a precondition for improvement,” Fu said. “Another precondition is to involve local government, when relevant, in the improvement process because they are at the frontline of civil registration.

Building public awareness of the value of civil registration or creating incentives, such as conditional cash transfers tied to birth registration in the family, can be crucial in improving registration rates.

In Nepal’s remote Karnali region, mothers are asked to register their newborn children as a condition to receive a cash grant for the purchase of nutritious food for children. Birth registration is not prioritized in Nepal although it is important for children in order to receive governmental support, from health care to education.


Technology can also play a crucial role in overcoming the barriers to registration faced by people in rural or remote areas.

The Bangladeshi government, assisted by UNICEF, has launched a campaign to register birth data online in an effort to fight high levels of child marriages mainly in rural areas.

About a third of women in Bangladesh aged 20-24 are married by the age of 15 and birth certificates can be a tool for preventing such marriages.

The international community has an important role to play in improving registration, by providing technical assistance and funding, and facilitating the exchange of best practices, experts and academics agree.

Lopez of Queensland University noted that the role of the international community is vital in pushing governments to provide reliable statistics - mainly through pressure to reach Millennium Development Goals. But “social and health policies require above all strong government leadership.”

Move to improve statistics

In a watershed moment for Asia and the Pacific in December 2012, leading statisticians and senior government officials from 46 countries gathered in Bangkok and agreed to ambitious steps to improve environment and social statistics, critical in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. Included in that was an endorsement of a strategy to improve civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems in the region, noting that dysfunctional CRVS systems hamper inclusive and sustainable growth.

“There is a strong business case for the improvement of civil registration,” Fu said. “With an understanding of the benefits of improved civil registration, governments will be able to prioritize this issue.”- IRIN