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Millions Of Invisible Children Are Deprived Of Their Rights

Liviane Urquiza's picture

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A mother holding her baby. Nigeria. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank.

Have you ever met an invisible child? No? Are you sure…?

When a child’s birth is not recorded in the official local or national registry, it means that he officially does not exist. Millions of children throughout the world are victims of this situation and grow up without an identity.

They are called “invisible” because their names do not appear on any official civic register. As they have no documentation, no institution can ensure that their rights are respected.

“Without an official identity, these children may be denied access to education, quality health care and other vital services, with serious consequences for their childhood and their future.” –UNICEF Report: State of the world’s children, 2006.

According to the World Bank, the proportion of the population registered at birth is only 1% in South Asia and 2% in Sub-Saharan Africa. To fully grasp the enormity of these figures, one must understand the implications for the  “invisible” children .

What risks are “invisible” children exposed to?

Without identity documents or simply, without a date of birth, children can be exposed to all types of abuse. For example, many laws prevent minors from getting married. And yet, it is estimated that every three seconds, somewhere in the world, a young girl under the age of 18 is forced into marriage. The fact is that even if they are below the legal age to marry, the young women have no way of proving it without a birth certificate. UNICEF statistics show that in South Asia and Africa , almost half the number of  young women between 15 and 24 are married before they reach age 18, while in Latin America, more than one out of four young women married are underage. Some of these young girls are barely 12 years old…

Child labor is also illegal.  Unregistered children are at greater risk of becoming modern-day slaves who, with no wages and no rights, have little or no chance of coming out of poverty. This is a universal problem, affecting rich as well as poor countries. Millions of children work in hazardous and difficult conditions. “Invisible” children are most severely affected by this form of slavery since they have no rights and therefore no means of appealing to the authorities for protection.   

In order to protect children from all these forms of abuse, it is necessary to educate future parents, as everything begins with them.

1 birth = 1 birth certificate

For the authorities to be able to issue birth certificates to families, the birth would have to take place in a location close to the birth registration center, or else the parents would have to undertake to go to register their child after the birth. However, the distance to the civil registry office is sometimes so long that the journey can take several days.  Furthermore, in the developing world, many parents are unaware of the importance of having a birth certificate, or else do not know how to go about obtaining one.

To overcome the problem of distance, mobile registrationprograms have been implemented in some countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, Afghanistan and Madagascar. Through these programs, births may be registered retroactively. In other words, a birth certificate may be issued several years after a birth. Even adults may be registered.

In 2005, the international organization PLAN launched a birth registration campaign, through which more than 40 million children received an identity.

In March 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution on the problem of birth registration and the right to have a formal identity, without discrimination. The resolution calls on countries  to: identify and remove physical, administrative and any other barriers that impede access to birth registration, including late registration.

Support the global effort for birth registration to prevent millions of children from remaining “invisible”.

Help pass on the message: 1 child = 1 birth certificate!



Submitted by Marco Traversa on

One other main issue about invisible children is that often people coming from these areas of the world are prosecuted for a number of reasons and seek asylum in third countries. In some cases, asylum is easily granted if the applicant can prove its nationality. However, being an invisible child means that the applicants are undocumented and among the various risks that you mentioned there is also the risk of the denial of their asylum application.
I worked in Israel with refugees coming from all over Africa; I was part of the resettlement team and we tried to reunify family. While providing legal assistance in these family reunification cases, it was often hard to obtain the approval as our clients were lacking birth certificates which proved the connection.