Registration of births – a basis for safeguarding children’s rights
51 million children born worldwide in 2007 were not registered. It may seem to be a mere formality, but it is the factual basis for claiming their rights.
A Register of Births is a list held by an official body of the children born within the area for which it is responsible, and forms the basis for issuing a birth certificate. Without an entry in such a register, the child is outside the ‘government radar’. In effect, the child does not seem to exist. Failure to register a birth results in both legal and practical disadvantages for this child. For example, it is more difficult for the child to gain access to education, health facilities and other civil rights, such as the right to vote (once it has reached the voting age). It will also be difficult to obtain an identity document or passport. An entry in the Register of Births enables certain minimum age requirements to be complied with, thereby protecting children from early marriage, for example, or from premature conscription into the armed services.
Registration of births in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The registration of a birth is a fixed aspect of the civil status of a person in the states of Europe; and a corresponding obligation to register a birth was adopted internationally in 1966 by means of Article 24 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This was reiterated in the Convention on children’s rights (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) of 20 November 1989. At the heart of the Convention, to which almost 200 states and the Holy See (with reservations) are bound under international law, lies the “welfare of the child”. Article 7 (1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the entry of the child’s details in a register immediately after the child’s birth, in order to ensure that the child is recognised as a legal person. The term “immediately” is not legally defined. According to legal commentaries, days or weeks may be intended, but under no circumstances is it months or years. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the task of which is to monitor the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, stresses that the obligation to register applies just as much in rural and remote areas, as well as areas with a high proportion of nomadic peoples, as in urban areas. The standard not only obliges the state to ensure that the conditions are in place for the registration of children, where appropriate with the assistance of mobile units, but also to ensure that the actual registration takes place.
Reasons for non-registration
The causes of non-registration are many and varied. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the legal provisions governing the registration of births are often neither sufficiently comprehensive nor implemented. In some places they are also hampered by inefficient administration. Long travel distances to the “nearest” registration office also present obstacles. However, in many cases the cause may also lie in pure ignorance on the part of parents of both the obligation to register and the positive effects of registration.
6 million euros backing for a new EU project
The EU Commission has now addressed this important matter. As part of a new project under the aegis of the EU and UNICEF, new free registration procedures are to be introduced in eight selected countries. According to the EU Commission, the following specific aspects were decisive factors in the selection of the eight countries (Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Mozambique, Uganda, Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands): a high proportion of unregistered children below five years of age, very low birth registration rates, a high degree of discrimination regarding access to fundamental services in absence of a birth certificate and, in some countries, the collapse of the register of births as a result of civil war. Digital and mobile technology should help facilities for the registration of births to be made available even in remote areas. This registration should give people improved access to such things as health services. The EU and UNICEF have set themselves the ambitious aim of closing by half the existing gulf in terms of birth registrations between rural and urban areas within three years. A total of 6 million euros has been made available for this project, with funds to be provided by multilateral financial backers such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The EU has further stated that national governments will increase the resources allocated to this topic. The EU should be congratulated for including this important issue in its agenda, and through this project many children in the world will in the end acquire the basis for claiming their rights.
Original version of the article: German