Children without a birth certificate are ‘invisible’ during disasters


29 May 2014

CHILDREN who have not had their births registered can be at greater risk of abuse, exploitation, violence and neglect in a disaster or emergency setting, leaving them “invisible” to authorities, reveals Plan International’s new report, Birth Registration in Emergencies.

In almost all emergency situations, whether armed conflicts, natural disasters or mass population displacements, children can become separated from their families or care givers, leaving them especially vulnerable if they are unregistered.

Unregistered children are particularly at risk to exploitation as there is no legal evidence of their existence, making it more difficult to prosecute perpetrators. It can also be harder for unregistered children to receive aid.

Children who are unregistered are more likely to become involved in hazardous work, sexual exploitation, trafficking, recruitment into armed groups and being treated as adults in the justice system.

Birth registration can be therefore a tool for the protection of boys and girls in times of emergency.

“Birth registration is a human right. If you are registered you can prove who and how old you are. The government knows you exist and can plan for your immediate and future needs,” says Plan International’s Count Every Child Advocacy Manager, Nicoleta Panta.

“A birth certificate is a form of legal identity that can help facilitate an individual’s access to other identity documents, such as a passport, that are attached to particular rights and benefits,” she adds.

“The importance of birth registration is also linked to demands from an increasingly modern and urban world.”

Around the world 230 million children under five have not had their births registered.[1] Of these, 85 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa and 135 million in Asia-Pacific, while more than 100 developing countries are yet to invest in functioning systems that can support efficient registrations of births and other life events like deaths and marriages.

“Unless this issue receives immediate and concerted attention by governments, donors and development partners, the continued cost of neglect of these systems could detract from both human and economical development,” adds Panta.

Plan’s report brings together findings of a literature review on birth registration based on Plan’s experience, including seven country case studies, as well as experiences from other development partners. This has led to the identification of a number of key issues:

Emergency situations frequently disrupt registration systems, magnify pre-existing weaknesses and present new challenges.
Where formal systems are in place but not adequately supported or managed, conflict and disasters will aggravate existing problems and prevent access to registration services and facilities.

Based on the report, Plan recommends:

Governments ensure that civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) line ministries work closely with disaster risk management line ministries and humanitarian actor, to identify appropriate measures for preparedness and for strengthening CRVS systems in emergencies.
Humanitarian actors ensure that a situation analysis for birth registration and CRVS becomes an integral part of humanitarian assessments, and that they incorporate birth registration actions as part of emergency preparedness, response and recovery.
Donors allocate funding for birth and civil registration as part of preparedness in humanitarian response and recovery. While birth registration may not be an immediate, life-saving priority in humanitarian response, it is clearly an important tool for protection before, during and after emergencies. However, funding for birth and civil registration efforts in emergencies may need to link to longer term funding initiatives.

Since 2005, Plan has helped register more than 40 million children around the world and influenced laws in 10 countries so that 153 million can enjoy their right to birth registration.

For example, during the flooding in Burkina Faso in September 2009, which affected approximately 150,000 people, many flood victims lost all their vital documents. As part of the response, Plan implemented an initiative focused on replacing birth certificates.

During the two-month project, 25,000 children successfully applied for and received replacement birth certificates, and 6,500 children were registered and issued with new birth certificates