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EU to Fund Birth Registration in Eight Countries

European Union, 6 July 2012 ( - The EU has announced a €6m project for birth registration in eight countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific to ensure that more people have access to healthcare, attend school and vote in elections.

The initiative, launched by the EU and Unicef, the UN agency for children, which is contributing €600,000 to the €6m total, will replace existing registration processes, which, when available, are often of such poor quality that records are lost or cannot be retrieved. The new systems will make registration free, use digital techniques and include mobile technology that allows people to register in remote areas. They will also help to set up better links with health services – making sure that people are registered for health facilities and immunisation, for example – as well as social protection, ensuring people can receive the support they need by being registered.

"Registration is the 'first right' of any child, and I am delighted that thanks to this new project we will be helping to provide a whole generation of children with their rights; not just at birth, but throughout their lives," said Andris Piebalgs, the EU development commissioner. "This will also help countries to have a clear picture of their demographic trends, which is key to defining sustainable development strategies for the future."

The project – announced ahead of a family planning summit in London next week – will be implemented in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Mozambique, Uganda, Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. The countries have a high number of children under five, high numbers of adolescents without a birth registration certificate, low levels of birth registration, and high levels of discrimination in terms of access to basic services against people without birth certificates.

According to Unicef, around 50m births went unregistered in 2000 – more than 40% of all estimated births worldwide that year, the last year for which there appear to be figures. Last year, Unicef said only half the children in developing countries under the age of five have their births registered.

Unregistered children – almost always from poor, marginalised or displaced families or from countries lacking effective registration systems – start life with a significant disadvantage. Without registration, they do not technically exist, know who their parents are, or have rights. Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child's existence, the lack of registration can store problems for the future.

Without a legal identity a person may not have access to healthcare and nutrition services, school, marriage registration, protection from abuse and violence, or the right to vote. Lack of registration means no record of age, which makes it hard for governments to enforce laws on minimum age for employment, hindering efforts to prevent child labour, or to counter the problem of girls forced into marriage before they are legally eligible.

In Asia and in Africa, less than half of children are registered. Children from the poorest households are twice as likely to be unregistered as children from the richest households. Those born at home have less chance of being registered. The gap between registration of births in urban and rural areas continues to be significant (for example, in Africa it is 36% in rural and 61% in urban areas).

Children are often not registered due to difficult access to civil registry services, the cost of registering a birth and long distances to registration centres. Refugees, ethnic or religious minorities, or children born out of wedlock have had particularly low registration rates because of a lack of awareness of the importance of registering a baby, as well as cultural practices which mean children are only named several weeks after birth. Many parents simply do not feel that the need to register their children is as urgent as the many other demands they face in their daily lives.

South Asia has the largest number of unregistered children, with approximately 22.5 million, or more than 40% of the world's unregistered births in 2000. In sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of all births went unregistered in 2000. In south Asia, the figure was 63%. In the Middle East and north Africa, nearly one-third of the children born in 2000 were unregistered, while in east Asia and the Pacific, 22% of births were not registered.

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