Using food to increase birth registration

Posted on | oktober 13, 2011 | No Comments

A child’s first access to human rights comes with the registration of their birth.  Birth registration is more than than a right, but the key to the future.  Without a birth certificate a child is left to wander through life vulnerable to abuse and victimization.   Despite how valuable birth registration is to a child’s welfare, registering a child’s birth is commonplace and one of the first steps when a child is born in developed countries, it is all too often taken for granted.  Birth registrations in developing countries are often low.  According to UNICEF, in 2008 alone an estimated 51 million babies, more than two fifths of those born worldwide, were not registered at birth.

For poor families, especially those in rural areas, getting a birth certificate is far from simple.  To register a child’s birth parents may have to travel, often on foot, for hours or even days to reach the nearest municipal office.  Once they reach the office they then need to pay the registration fee to ensure their child’s birth is legitimized, this is all too often more than they can bare as the fees may be as much as the family has to spend on food for the whole family, or what they earn in a week.

In Nepal, the launch of a program implemented by the government in October 2009 is proving influential in significantly increasing the number of registered births. The program offers approximately $2.75 each month to families who have children under five in the Karnali region of Mid-West Nepal, designed to be used as a subsidy for food.  According to UNICEF, the program has increased birth registration by 300 percent in the past year. The program is also targeting poor Dalit (‘untouchables’) families across the country and allows each family up to two grants each month for their documented children. Before the program was put into effect in Karnali, only 20,896 children had birth certificates, since the program started 85,624 children now have birth certificate (IRIN).

A birth certificate is more than a simple piece of paper, it is a weapon that helps protect children against early marriage, child labor, recruitment in the armed forces or detention and prosecution as an adult. Additionally, without registration a child may be unable to access many of their rights as an adult, such as the ability to obtain a formal job, open a bank account, get a marriage license, vote, or apply for a passport.

The implications of a not registering a child at birth is immense, as they are denied a fundamental human right.  Without birth registration children are without an official identity, they have no recognized name or nationality- in legal terms they do not exist. With no document to provide proof of their age or who they are, they are likely to be discriminated against and denied access to basic services such as health and education. Additionally, without proof of age and identity, children are left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, as an unregistered child is more desirable to a human trafficker. The discrimination and abuse a child without a registered birth may face is only compounded by the fact that their ‘invisibility’ may remain unnoticed or unreported.

The importance of birth registration as a fundamental human right is often overlooked in the general scheme of International Development and is a vital key to implementing sustainable development polices. Without registration, children are not included in data and thus are overlooked in planning, policy development and budget decisions. Birth registration must become a top priority for all countries and international development to ensure that the rights of all children are safeguarded. The program in Nepal is a key example of one of the ways a country can take simple steps to increase birth registration and protect children’s rights while addressing other development needs within the community. However, the program is not fool-proof:  “Some women in Urthu, a village in Jumla District, part of Karnali Zone where the government estimates more than half the children are chronically malnourished, told IRIN they had used the extra income to buy eggs and vegetables, but others said husbands were using the money for gambling or alcohol.” Nonetheless, the despite the success of some programs, global levels of birth registrations remain low. Countries must make birth registration simpler and more accessible for parents, especially those from rural and underprivileged communities.

AUTHOR: Cassandra Clifford
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E-MAIL: Cassandra [at]


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