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Birth Registration A Regional Problem, But Church Has Beneficial Effect In Some Places

  • Bangladesh
  • April 12 2006
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Every year millions of births in Asia and the Pacific go unregistered, which can severely limit the children´s future.

Some participants at a recent regional conference on this problem told UCA News that a strong Church presence in their area has resulted in a high birth registration rate or has facilitated government efforts to increase it.

The Fourth Asia and the Pacific Regional Conference on Universal Birth Registration, held March 13-17 in Bangkok, was organized by UNICEF (United Nations Children´s Fund) and Plan International, a humanitarian organization for children´s welfare.

According to Jim Emerson, chief operations officer of Plan International, the Statistical Office of the United Nations estimates that about 48 million births go unregistered every year, two-thirds of them in Asia and the Pacific. South Asia has the highest percentage of unregistered births, close to 70 percent, while in East Asia and the Pacific the figure is 35 percent.

Not being registered brings about many problems especially for children, as heard by the 200 participants from 26 countries -- civil registrars, ministers, parliamentarians, government officials and NGO workers.

For instance, Suborna was 7 when traffickers snatched her from her home in Bangladesh. When her father eventually found her, local officials refused to let him take the girl home because she did not have a birth certificate.

In another village in Bangladesh, Saheb Aliwas was turned away from his local primary school because he did not have the right papers.

A young Indian girl named Dharma was forced by her father to sell homemade liquor on the streets. She could not fulfill her desire to go to school because she too lacked the right papers to establish her identity.

In the words of Rima Salah, UNICEF deputy executive director, "An unregistered child is a vulnerable child who will forever be condemned to live on the margins of society."

Emerson blamed low birth registration rates on lack of resources and technical expertise, as well as low awareness among parents and communities about the importance of registration.

For instance, Bangladesh has a rate of only 7 percent, because the country´s people, most of them poor, do not see the need. Generally, a birth certificate is required only for obtaining a passport or entering certain types of formal employment. When proof of age is required, other personal records may be used, such as school certificates. The case of Saheb, however, indicates that lack of registration may deny a child basic services such as education.

Against this backdrop, some participants from predominantly Christian countries told UCA News about the role the Church has played regarding birth registration in their countries.

Carmelita Nuguid Ericta, civil registrar general of the Philippines, said her country has a relatively high birth registration rate, nearly 85 percent, because of "our predominately Christian background." She explained, "The certification of Baptisms in our parishes seems to be a good exercise."

The Church is playing an important role in birth registrations in East Timor, where all birth registration systems and documents approved under Indonesian rule (1975-1999) were declared null and void after the country achieved independence in 2002.

According to Tim Budge, country director of Plan East Timor, the country unit of Plan International, registration is currently only 20 percent in the country, about 90 percent of whose 920,000 people are Catholics. "Our government does not have a civil registry code in place yet, but registration is ongoing already. Parental marriage certificates and Baptism records, both issued by the Church, support the process very much," he said.

Dickson Kiragi, representing the civil registrar of Papua New Guinea, said that in the last two years, the rate of birth registration rose from 3 percent to 25 percent due to a campaign involving teachers, health workers and Christian clergy. About 96 percent of the country´s 5 million people are Christians, mainly Protestants. Kiragi noted that the role of Churches is important because they record births, marriages and deaths.

END

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