THE BLOG

Aren't We Forgetting Someone?

15/04/2013 18:33 BST | Updated 15/06/2013 10:12 BST

There are now less than 1,000 days to go until the 2015 deadline for the world's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The international community is busy examining the progress we've made and all the work remaining if we are to realise the vision that was laid out 12 years ago. If we're going to talk about #MDGMomentum and pushing beyond 2015, we need to have everyone on board.

But aren't we forgetting someone?

Every year, up to 51million children under the age of five are left vulnerable because their births have not been registered. That's more people than the entire population of Spain who may miss out on basic services like healthcare and education because they don't have birth certificates. The problem has an epicentre that spans two continents: two out of every three children in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are unregistered.

How can we measure our progress towards the MDGs when not all children are counted? How can governments build schools and employ the right number of teachers if they don't know how many children are born? How can children be vaccinated if nobody knows they exist?

We tend to forget that birth registration is a critical life event and that a birth certificate can make or break a child's future. Later in life, a birth certificate can help protect a child against forced marriage, child labour, premature enlistment in the armed forces or, if accused of a crime, prosecution as an adult.

Birth registration impacts everybody and it should be high on the agendas of governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and societies in general.

A right for all chidren

The people most affected by a lack of a birth certificate are those usually on the fringes of society that governments and development organisations alike struggle to identify and support. There are six million stateless children in the world, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These girls and boys are denied a nationality and all the basic rights that come with it, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, abuse, trafficking and forced labour as modern day slaves in deplorable conditions.

Plan International, a global child rights organisation, has worked since 2005 to help register the births of 40million children around the world. Together with our partners we have influenced laws in 10 countries, resulting in access to a free birth certificate for more than 150million children. We work with some of the most marginalised people in some of the hardest-to-reach parts of the world.

But we're just scratching the surface.

We believe that Universal Birth Registration is impossible to ignore and entirely possible to achieve. This is why we continue to work with parents, caregivers, governments, the private sector and UN agencies to make every child visible.

The cornerstone of Civil Registration

Birth registration is key to the achievement of many of the MDGs. There are goals for reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, increasing access to primary education and promoting gender equality, to name but a few. Birth registration has implications for all of these.

This week, at the Global Summit on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Bangkok, global, regional and national actors have come together to map how we're going to get to 2015 and beyond.

While civil registration sounds like a jargon term it's really rather simple - it's fundamentally about the government's record of the most important life events like birth, marriage, divorce and death. But if we're incapable of registering a child's birth, there's not much hope for the rest of the milestones that children should reach

For individuals and families, civil registration provides proof of identity and enables people to claim, and benefit from, legal, economic and social rights. It also provides proof that the state recognises and respects the lives of those for which it has responsibility.

We need to see more from governments if we're going to achieve Universal Birth Registration. More than 100 developing countries around the world don't have adequate civil registration systems. Governments must work harder to incorporate birth registration into their policies and practices and ensure that the issue is included in partnerships.

Birth registration works best when communities understand its importance and are engaged in mobilising each other to register all newborn children. We've seen this all over the world, from Bangladesh to Zimbabwe.

One thousand days may seem like a long time, but 2015 is just around the corner and we need to be looking at what comes next. We strongly believe that birth registration should be at the forefront of post-MDG discussions and we urge all governments to take action. Will you join us to make every child count?

Follow @PlanAsia and #CountEveryChild on Twitter this week for the latest from the Global Summit on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics.