India, Bangladesh, Nepal contribute to global progress: UNICEF

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United Nations: The number of registered births has significantly increased over the past decade and great strides made in the South Asian countries of India, Bangladesh and Nepal have helped contribute to the global progress in the area, the UN children’s agency has said.

Currently, about three in four children under age five are registered compared to six in 10 around 2000. This progress has been achieved mostly in the last 10 years, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday in a new report, “Birth Registration for Every Child by 2030: Are we on track?” The report, which analyses data from 174 countries, said that the proportion of children under five registered globally is up around 20 per cent from 10 years ago, increasing from 63 per cent to 75 per cent. Global progress is driven largely by great strides in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, the report said. Birth registration levels in the region as a whole have tripled, from around 23 per cent nearly two decades ago to 70 per cent today.

In India alone, the number of registered children rose from 41 per cent in 2005-2006, to 80 per cent a decade later. The UNICEF has been working with the authorities to prioritise birth registration, including through training community workers and launching public awareness programmes in vulnerable areas. By contrast, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind the rest of the world, with Ethiopia, Zambia and Chad recording the lowest levels of registered births globally. While South Asia has made notable progress in birth registration, achievement of universal birth registration by 2030 is likely to fall short for the region and efforts will need to accelerate dramatically in Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular. To date, global progress in birth registration has benefited the poorest and richest children alike, with some exceptions.

This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where levels of birth registration have increased only among children from the richest households. Equity gaps between the rich and poor have started to close in parts of South Asia. In India, for example, birth registration levels have risen for both the richest and poorest segments of the population, and the gap between the two has narrowed. On the other hand, Pakistan has recorded rising levels of birth registration since 2006-2007, but only among children from the richest households. However, even as the number of registered births has significantly increased over the past decade, one quarter of children globally remain unaccounted for, leaving them vulnerable and invisible, the agency said.

The report added that the births of one in four children under-five, or some 166 million children globally, have never been officially recorded. Too many children are “slipping through the cracks,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. “A child not registered at birth is invisible nonexistent in the eyes of the government or the law,” she said. “Without proof of identity, children are often excluded from education, health care and other vital services, and are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.” The UNICEF is pressing governments to take action, in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which call for all people to be provided a legal identity, including birth registration.

Nearly one in three countries will need to step up progress urgently to meet this target as they are home to around a third of under-fives globally. Lack of knowledge on how to register a child’s birth, but also unaffordable registration fees, are some of the barriers which will need to be addressed. Traditional customs and practices, such as forcing new mothers to stay indoors, may also be a factor.

The report outlines five areas for action, beginning with providing certificates for children at birth, while also empowering parents to register them. Birth registration should be linked to other systems to facilitate a child’s right to services such as health care and education, and countries should invest in technological solutions which support birth registration. The UNICEF is also calling on local communities to demand birth registration for every child.