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What if you did not have a birth certificate, driver’s license, passport or health insurance card? There is no way of proving who you are. This is the reality for some children in developing countries.

Millions of people, mostly in the developing world, were not officially registered when they were born. In wealthy countries like the U.S., almost every birth is registered upon arrival with a government agency and documented with a birth certificate.

But in much of Africa and Asia, documentation only happened for a fraction of newborns. And living as an undocumented person is a lifelong problem. You cannot obtain a driver’s license, passport or a health insurance card.

Kerry Neal, a child protection specialist with UNICEF, explains, “A birth certificate is the document from which all others spring. Without one, it can be hard to get into school, get exam certificates, get a passport or even a SIM card for your phone in some countries. You often need to show proof of identity and citizenship to get medical and social services.”

Without proper documentation, children cannot prove their age. This causes children more likely to be trafficked, conscripted or forced to work or marry while underage.

Births should also be registered because governments need to know how many people are being born where in order to plan for services such as schools, hospitals and roads. Birth registrations are the best way to track demographics.

This information piqued the interest of President Obama.

“Earlier in June, President Obama signed the Girls Count Act, which authorizes the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to promote birth registration systems around the world.”

The issue of birth registrations has also been getting increasing attention from UNICEF. In December 2013, UNICEF published groundbreaking reports.

The reports estimated that some 230 million children under the age of five, one out of three children worldwide, never had their birth registered.

The reasons for the million of births never registered are unknown. Some parents in the developing world may not have known about the process, found it too difficult, too expensive or a combination of all these reasons.

Often, registration offices are only found in cities. Many rural families cannot afford to take time off of work, and to spend the money required for the trip. Statistically, children in urban areas have higher registration rates than those living in rural areas.

Parents may also hold religious views that do not support government registration of children. In some areas of the developing world, there may not even be a government system available for registering the births.

For example, the UNICEF report found that in war ravaged Somalia and Liberia, fewer than five percent of births are registered.

Without proper documentation, some children do not exist. This leads to a life full of problems, including lack of schooling, underage trafficking and inability to apply for a job.

Lack of documentation is negatively affecting the developing world. With the help of the Girls Count Act, future generations of children hold a chance to be registered, and to live their life with proper documentation.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Take Part, UNICEF
Photo: Save the Children