Invisible Children: The Road to Registered Births

Lessons learned from South Africa’s path to universal birth registration.

Citizenship promises a number of basic rights, like access to health care and education—rights that one-third of the world’s youngest children do not enjoy. As of 2013, 230 million children under age five did not have their births registered, according to UNICEF.
The effects of legal registration are far-reaching. Beyond providing access to public services and education, citizenship helps protect young people from exploitation. Without documents, children are far more vulnerable to human trafficking and other human rights violations, note researchers at the Munk School of Global Affairs and the University of Toronto in the report “Reaching the Hard to Reach: A Case Study of Birth Registration in South Africa.” An article in The Lancet61307-5/abstract) called this widespread lack of citizenship “a scandal of invisibility.”

Although the numbers are staggering, several countries have made striking progress in registering births. Jordan, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand have all implemented effective systems in just a few decades, according to the World Health Organization.

*Image: Getty Images

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