Ensuring birth registration for girls

By Cameron Geasey, Partnership Communications, Child Health Now

On International Day of the Girl Child, World Vision calls for more attention to be paid to ensuring birth registration for all babies and continued vigilance to ensure that girls are not left behind.

The UN has declared 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.  One especially vital step in ensuring that a child’s rights are recognised is to ensure that their government recognises that they have been born—that they exist.  Yet a number of countries and regions show gender inequality in registration of births, and this often works against girl children.

Why is birth registration vital?

Without documentation that proves their child’s age and nationality, parents can have trouble gaining access for their child to health care, education and social services.  It makes it more difficult for a government to protect a person from early marriage or child labour if there is no proof of his or her age.  Girls are especially susceptible to early marriage.

Furthermore, a country that does not have adequate records of births and deaths does not have adequate data to see and solve problems.  That country does not have a true picture of how many young children it has or how many of them are dying preventable deaths.  It does not have a national understanding of where healthcare resources are most needed.  And it does not know whether there is a gender gap making girls less healthy than boys or vice-versa.

'A country that does not have adequate records of births and deaths does not have adequate data to see and solve problems'.

Unicef looked at the gender disparity in birth registrations in 2005.  At that time, it found that 65 per cent of countries analysed had achieved gender parity in birth registrations and that those with more than 50 per cent of all births registered were much less likely to have a disparity between girls and boys.  Lesotho and Tanzania were cited at that time as being among countries with a disparity that favoured boys and Uganda as an example of a country with a disparity that favoured girls.

A 2012 Times of India article reported that after a gender disparity to the detriment of girls was found in India’s provinces of Bharatpur and Jhunjhunu in 2010, but two years later the disparity was reduced due to the efforts of the local government in cooperation with civil society organisations.  However, even after the improvement, neither province registered a majority of all births.

The Second Report of the independent Expert Review Group on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health in 2013 listed as a primary recommendation to “launch a new movement for better data: Make universal and effective Civil Registration and Vital Statistics systems a post-2015 development target.”  This group monitors progress on the United Nation's Every Woman, Every Child initiative.  The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) end in 2015 and the post-2015 targets are the in-discussion goals for what should come after the MDGs. 

As the international community seeks to increase its understanding of how well countries are recording births, organisations should include analyses of whether gender disparities are an issue, and as they push for strengthening of birth registration systems they should watch to ensure that neither gender is left behind in any country.