Sub-Saharan Africa has done little over the past 16 years to ensure that newborns are registered, a new report by the UN Children’s Fund has said.
The agency warned of a “crisis of invisibility” where less than one in two births is registered as birth registration rates have not improved across in the region.
According to data from Unicef, more than 95 million children have not had their births registered across sub-Saharan Africa, numbers that will soar to 115 million by 2030 if decisive action is not taken.
The research also revealed that one in three unregistered children live in just three countries: DR Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania where possession of a birth certificate is less common.
"With no proof of identity, age, or of nationality, an unregistered child is vulnerable to violations such as child marriage and child labour," said Leila Pakkala, Unicef regional director for eastern and southern Africa.
However, despite numerous challenges, evidence across the continent shows that child healthcare delivery services such as immunisation campaigns can speed up and increase registration of children born in health facilities and at home.
Uganda, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Namibia and Ethiopia have almost doubled their newborn registration by simply making immunisation accessible to them.
Unicef terms birth registration a first and critical step to a functional national civil registration and vital statistics system.
“Apart from being the first legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence, birth registration ensures that children are counted and access basic services such as health, social security and education. Knowing the age of a child is central to protecting them from child labour, being arrested and treated as adults in the justice system, child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation,” she said.
The data was released during the 4th Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration held December 4-8 in Nouakchott.
“A rapidly growing child population, coupled with current trends of slow rates of change means there could be close to 115 million unregistered children in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, short of the Sustainable Development Goal Target 16.9 that aims to provide a legal identity for all, including birth registration,” she said.
“Experiences from across the continent show that coupling health and civil registration services can resolve poor infant registration rates,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, Unicef’s regional director for West and Central Africa.