More than half of world’s unregistered children under 5 in Africa - UNICEF

By Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

More than half of world’s unregistered children under 5 in Africa - UNICEF

Of the 164 million unregistered children under 5 worldwide, more than half (around 91 million) live in Africa, according to a new statistical update on birth registration in Africa, published by UNICEF in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Nearly half of all African children under 5 are unregistered, but levels vary widely across countries and regions. Around 20 countries on the continent are on a good track to achieve universal birth registration by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target 16.9. However, substantial acceleration would be needed for Africa as a whole to achieve the target.

“A birth certificate is a vital tool to help children access their rights. It is the basis upon which they can establish a nationality, avoid the risk of statelessness, access social services, and seek protection from violence and exploitation,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The poorest children in Africa continue to be left behind, with the gap in birth registration between the richest and poorest children widening over two decades, most notably in Central Africa. With sustained progress, Africa could continue to see fewer unregistered children in the years to come.

“Evidence from UNICEF-supported programs across the continent points to a few critical interventions that could shift the needle towards ensuring every child’s right to birth registration, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “By twinning birth registration with newborn health and immunization services, making sure all children who are in contact with these services during their first year of life are also registered, countries could see birth registration rates increase dramatically.”

The new statistical update is being launched during the African Union Commission and UNECA-hosted Experts Group Meeting of the 6th Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 24-27 October 2022.

Legal identity for all in Africa – starting from birth – could be a game-changer in closing the global identity gap and fulfilling the promise to leave no one behind. UNICEF is calling on African Union member states to:

  1. Revise laws and policies to remove all discriminatory provisions and make registration and certification free within the legally permissible time period and beyond.
  2. Adopt a one-stop approach for newborn registration and certification that is entirely interoperable with health and immunization systems, including in humanitarian contexts.
  3. Take a gradual approach to the digitization of systems, while adhering to safe and innovative practices, based on a holistic approach to ensure the universal civil registration of all vital events and identity management

The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, include a dedicated target (16.9) under Goal 16 — namely, to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030. The UN Legal Identity Agenda, supported by UNICEF, also calls for a holistic approach to ensure the universal civil registration of all vital events, the production of vital statistics, and the establishment and maintenance of population registers and identity management apparatus from birth to death.

Since the adoption of the SDGs, great strides have been made in raising the levels of birth registration in Africa, but a substantial acceleration of progress will be required to fulfill the promise of universal birth registration by 2030.