Foreign Policy Blogs

Where are Africa’s children?

Where are Africa's children?

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, half of all African children do not have a birth certificate, which negatively affects the children both mentally and physically in their sense of safety and well-being. “Could you imagine a child not having an identity, not having an existence written down and so you’re born, you live your life, you die and you never existed in any document,” said Cornelius Williams, Regional Adviser: Child Protection at the UNICEF.  “It’s like you were never there,” he said (Leadership Nigeria).  Birth registrations were particularly low in countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda, Williams added.

Birth registration is the official recording of a child’s birth, and is both a permanent and official record of their existence. It is a simple concept — a child is born and then at the time and place of their birth a record is made of their name and the name of their parents, sex, along with the date, time and place of birth. However, the implementing registration in Africa is complex and efforts towards universal birth registration remain slow. In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 percent of all births went unregistered in 2000 alone.

Birth registrations in Africa remain slow due to a number of factors — some as simple as a lack of awareness by state and local athourities alike in combination with a lack of understanding of the implications by parents or potential patrents alike, whereas others may include social and ethnic taboos and/or births in rural areas or outside of a medical facility.  There is simply no sense of urgency; thus, parents do not see the hinderance and harm placed on the child until years later when a difficulty arises placing a child in school, getting healthcare, etc.

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.  A birth certificate is more than a simple piece of paper; it is a weapon against early marriage, child labor, recruitment into the armed forces, or detention and prosecution as an adult. Additionally, without registration a child may be unable to exercise 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.  Furthermore, many parents are not registered themselves, which is often a requirement for child registration.  Halting this vicious cycle is key to ending exploitation and the denial of human rights worldwide.

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.

International actions to see see birth registrations are universal and free are in place, as according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 7;

1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
2. States parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990).

Additionally the The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Article 6, states that;

1. Every child shall have the right from his/her birth to a name;
2. Every child shall be registered immediately after birth;
3. Every child has the right to acquire a nationality;
4. States Parties to the present Charter shall undertake to ensure that their constitutional legislations recognize the principles according to which a child shall acquire the nationality of the State in the territory of which he/she has been born if, at the time of the child’s birth, he/she is not granted nationality by any other State in accordance with its laws.

Birth registration must become a top priority for all countries and international development to ensure that the rights of all children are safeguarded. Addressing statelessness and birth registration is key in the battle to protect the human rights of millions and brings us a step closer to ending modern slavery and the exploitation of men, women and children.  Without birth registration or recognition by a state, children are without an official identity; they have no recognized name or nationality — in legal terms, they do not exist. Without documentation to provide proof of their age or who they are, children are likely to be discriminated against and denied access to basic services such as health and education.



Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.

Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict