Current Status + Progress
The births of around one fourth of the global population of children under five have never been registered

A name and nationality is every child’s right, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties. Yet the births of around one fourth of children under the age of five worldwide have never been recorded. This lack of formal recognition by the State usually means that a child is unable to obtain a birth certificate. As a result, he or she may be denied health care or education. Later in life, the lack of official identification documents can mean that a child may enter into marriage or the labour market, or be conscripted into the armed forces, before the legal age. In adulthood, birth certificates may be required to obtain social assistance or a job in the formal sector, to buy or prove the right to inherit property, to vote and to obtain a passport. Registering children at birth is the first step in securing their recognition before the law, safeguarding their rights, and ensuring that any violation of these rights does not go unnoticed.

Universal birth registration is also part of a system of vital statistics, which is essential for sound economic and social planning. Birth registration is therefore not only a fundamental human right, but also a key to ensuring the fulfillment of other rights.

Most countries have mechanisms in place for registering births. However, coverage, the type of information obtained and the use of resulting data can differ, based on a country’s infrastructure, administrative capacity, availability of funds, access to the population and technology for data management. Rates of registration vary substantially among countries, due to these and other factors.

COVERAGE

Large differences can be found in the coverage of birth registration among regions. Western Europe and North America have the highest levels of birth registration, with fully 100 per cent of children under 5 registered. This is followed by Eastern Europe and Central Asia, at 99 per cent, and Latin America and the Caribbean, at 95 per cent.

The lowest levels of birth registration are found in sub-Saharan Africa (43 per cent). In Eastern and Southern Africa, only 41 per cent of children are registered by their fifth birthday, while the rate in West and Central Africa is slightly higher, at 45 per cent.

DISPARITIES

Regional estimates suggest that birth registration rates among girls and boys are very similar; gender parity in birth registration is also found in almost all countries with available data. However, children of different social and economic backgrounds are associated with very different levels of birth registration.

A significant barrier to birth registration is the distance to the nearest registration facility. Accessibility is influenced by location and terrain, existing infrastructure and the availability of transportation. The greater the distance to the registration centre, the higher the financial and opportunity costs for the family. Globally, children living in urban areas are one and a half times more likely to be registered than their rural counterparts. However, as overall levels of birth registration increase, disparities due to place of residence diminish, as demonstrated in the regions of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

In most regions, birth registration rates tend to be highest among the richest 20 per cent of households. In West and Central Africa, for example, 70 per cent of children in the richest quintile are registered, compared to only 28 per cent of children in the poorest quintile. In South Asia, 78 per cent of children in the richest quintile are registered compared to just 45 per cent in the poorest quintile. Again, as birth registration levels increase at the national level, disparities in registration according to wealth decrease.

Access The Data
Birth registration
Percentage of children under age 5 whose births are registered (by sex, place of residence and household wealth quintile) Download Data
Recent Resources

A Snapshot of Civil Registration in Sub-Saharan Africa

Dec 5, 2017

This brochure presents an overview and key facts on civil registration for births and marriages in sub-Saharan Africa. It also highlights key challenges with registering child deaths and UNICEF’s programmatic work on improving birth registration in the region. This resource includes a brochure and detailed country profiles.

Download brochure

Birth Registration in Latin America and the Caribbean: Closing the Gaps

Sep 23, 2016

A name and nationality is every child’s right, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties. This brochure sheds light on this issue – from where we stand today, to the children left behind and the progress and projections on birth registration data in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Download the brochure (English) | Download the brochure (Spanish)

Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration

Dec 12, 2013

This publication presents the latest available data on the extent of unregistered children and assesses progress to date in increasing birth registration rates worldwide.

Download full report (PDF) | (Fr)
Notes on the Data

DATA SOURCES

The number of children who have acquired their right to a legal identity is based on official registration figures, censuses, vital statistics and household surveys. Civil registration systems that are functioning effectively compile vital statistics that are used to compare the estimated total number of births in a country with the absolute number of registered births during a given period. However, the systematic recording of births in most countries remains a serious challenge. In the absence of reliable administrative data, household surveys have become a key source of data to monitor levels and trends in birth registration. In most low- and middle-income countries, such surveys represent the sole source of this information.

The two main household survey programmes that collect data on birth registration are the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS).

To assess the levels of birth registration, the MICS questionnaire asks all mothers (or primary caregivers) of children under age 5 to respond to questions regarding the possession of a birth certificate or registration with civil authorities and knowledge of how to register a child. Data on birth registration have been collected through MICS since 1999 in almost 130 surveys conducted in about 50 low- and middle-income countries.

The standard household questionnaire used in DHS includes a question on whether all children under age 5 are registered. In previous rounds of DHS, questions on birth registration were asked as part of a section on reproductive health in the individual questionnaire addressed to girls and women of reproductive age. Information on whether births had been registered was recorded for all of a woman’s deliveries in the five years preceding the survey, regardless of whether the child(ren) survived. The first DHS with data on birth registration was conducted in 1993; since that time, data on the issue have been collected in more than 90 DHS around the world.

MAIN INDICATORS

The standard indicator used in DHS and MICS to report on birth registration refers to the percentage of children under age 5 (0 to 59 months) with a birth certificate or whose birth was reported as registered with civil authorities at the time of survey. Data derived from vital registration systems normally refer to the proportion of live births that were registered within a year or the legal time frame for registration applicable in the country.

INTERPRETING THE DATA

Birth registration prevalence rates are highly sensitive to the way in which questions are formulated. This is especially true of questions regarding the civil authorities in charge of recording births. Respondents may not always be clear on who these authorities are and may misinterpret notifying a church or village chief of a birth as formal registration. Household surveys generally customize questionnaires by naming the specific national authority responsible for registration. But even then, confusion about the birth registration process may result. Similarly, questions regarding the possession of a birth certificate may also be the source of erroneous data, since respondents may confuse a birth certificate with a health card or other document.

The availability of data on birth registration is highly uneven across countries. The latest source of comparable data in some cases dates back to 2000; in other cases, it is as recent as 2012. It is also crucial to remember that data indicate birth registration status at the time of data collection and do not necessarily reflect the current situation.

Several important factors should be considered when examining trends in birth registration:

  • Variations in the number of years between consecutive surveys or other data sources. These can range from 1 to more than 20, depending on the country.
  • The number of data points available for each country. Patterns of change are more evident when several data sources are available for a country.
  • The magnitude of change. Change can be gauged by looking either at the absolute difference (change in percentage points) between estimates or by looking at the percentage change between estimates. Conclusions should be drawn on the basis of both measures.
  • Survey design and implementation. This could include, for example, changes in sampling frames, questionnaire content and structure, and language used to refer to civil authorities.

MICS MODULE ON BIRTH REGISTRATION

MICS surveys have a standardized module on birth registration.

Download the MICS module on birth registration (PDF)