Monday, 19 August 2013 8:10 AM

Royal or Not, Birth Registration is a Fundamental Right

The newborn son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made global news again this month, with the public release of his birth certificate.

Even with his noble lineage, Prince George’s birth was required to be officially
registered in the same way as any of the roughly 800 000 births every year
in the United Kingdom.

Equipped with his birth certificate, the Prince now has lifelong legal
proof of his name, birthplace, and parentage – fundamental rights often
taken for granted by those who enjoy them.

This isn’t the case, however, for an estimated 220 million children under
the age of five around the world. In the Asia-Pacific region, for instance,
only 44 per cent of children under the age of five are registered. In some
South Asian countries birth registration rates are less than 10 per cent,
and in South Asia as a whole, only a third of all births have been
officially registered.

Unregistered children are, for all intents and purposes, officially
invisible.

They have no legal proof of their name, family links or nationality. Since
they do not exist in the eyes of the law, they are more prone to be
excluded, exploited or trafficked. They will also face considerable
challenges accessing essential services like education and healthcare, and
neither they nor their needs will be counted in the national statistics
used to shape government policy.

Should they remain unregistered later in life, they will not be able to own
property, open a bank account, hold a job in the formal sector, vote, or
apply for credit. The birth of their own children is also less likely to be
registered, reinforcing a vicious cycle of exclusion. Those most often
trapped in this cycle are members of vulnerable groups, such as those
living in poverty, marginalized populations, the disabled, the stateless,
and refugees. It is a situation which perpetuates inequalities and hinders
inclusive development.

Given the strong links enabling a range of other basic social, economic,
and political services, birth registration is a fundamental human right. It
is not, however, a standalone function. It forms part of broader civil
registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems, which also document other
important events in people’s lives, such as marriages and deaths, helping
to produce key statistics, such as population figures and causes-of-death.
These are crucial for both individuals and society, which is why a robust
and universal CRVS system is a core component of good governance.

Yet the majority of countries in Asia and the Pacific are without
well-functioning CRVS systems. Although much remains to be done, real
progress has been made. This year alone, Lao PDR, Nepal and Pakistan, have
taken coordinated national action as a result of a regional meeting on CRVS
convened in December last year by the Economic and Social Commission for
Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) with our partners. Other countries, including
Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines have made significant
improvements to their CRVS systems in recent years.

At the December 2012 meeting, countries identified the challenge of
building the necessary political commitment to effect the changes we need.
In response, ESCAP and partners such as UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, WHO,
ADB and Plan International, will organize an Asia-Pacific Ministerial
Meeting in November next year, to galvanize commitment and to focus the
resources of governments and development partners on accelerated action.
Our collective goal is to ensure that every country in Asia and the Pacific
has a well-functioning CRVS system by 2020.

Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon’s High-Level Panel of
Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposed, as a possible
target for the next phase of global development: “Free and universal legal
identity, including birth registration”. This immensely positive step
recognizes the importance of birth registration for inclusive and
sustainable development. However, only with well-functioning CRVS systems,
can the full benefits of birth registration for individuals and societies
be realized.

The international community will meet in New York next month at the 68th
Session of the General Assembly, to debate the shape of the post-2015
development agenda. Let us be bold and call for a firm target on CRVS, to
make the post-2015 development agenda truly transformative for governance
and for protection of the rights of individuals.

Irrespective of rank, class, or caste, no person in Asia and the Pacific
should ever again be excluded by incomplete statistical systems.

No child should remain invisible, no life should remain uncounted. 

 

Source: Press Release, UNESCAP