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Report: Many Born Without Identity

By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press Writer

Monday, June 3, 2002; 8:25 PM

UNITED NATIONS An estimated 50 million babies born in the year 2000 about 40 percent of all births were never legally registered and started life without an official identity or nationality, UNICEF said in a report Tuesday. "With no document to prove how old they are or even who they are they are likely to join the millions facing discrimination and the lack of access to basic services such as health and education. And with no proof of age and identity, they may lack the most basic protection against abuse and exploitation," said Marta Santos Pais, director of the UNICEF's Innocenti Research Center in Florence, Italy, which prepared the report. The vast majority of these babies were born into poverty and denied the "membership card" that could open the door to a wide range of rights and a better life than their parents, it said. "An unregistered child will be a more attractive 'commodity' to a child trafficker and does not have even the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labor, recruitment in the armed forces or detention and prosecution as an adult," she said in the report. "In later life, the unregistered child may be unable to apply for a passport or formal job, open a bank account, get a marriage license, stand for elective office or vote," Santos Pais said. The 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by 191 countries, recognizes the right of every child to be registered immediately after birth and to acquire a name and a nationality. The report said universal registration can be reached by all states, and UNICEF called for free birth registration, new laws to facilitate registration, enough registration offices to ensure that no child is left behind, and campaigns like those in The Philippines to raise awareness of the importance of birth registration. Even in the poorest countries, UNICEF said the 2000 figure confirms that almost universal registration can take place. At the first U.N. General Assembly session on children last month, all nations were called on to develop systems to ensure that babies are registered. Santos Pais said the report is based on a new analysis of data from about 70 countries where UNICEF and its national partners did household surveys as well as reports to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and information from other U.N. agencies. "According to UNICEF, an estimated 41 percent of births worldwide were not registered in 2000, undermining the right of over 50 million children to an identity, name and nationality," the report said. "In 39 countries, at least 30 percent of all children under the age of five were not registered at birth, and in 19 cases, the figure was at least 60 percent," it said. The figures do not include countries for which data was not available including Afghanistan, Eritrea and Congo, which have virtually non-existent registration. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 70 percent of births went unregistered, and in south Asia, 63 percent. But south Asia had the largest number of unregistered children, with approximately 22.5 million, or over 40 percent of the world's unregistered births in 2000, compared to about 17 million in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said. In the Middle East and north Afrca, nearly one-third of the children born in 2000, a total of some 3 million, lacked legal recognition of their identity, and in east Asia and the Pacific, 22 percent of births some 7 million were unregistered, it said. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said "the root causes of non-registration are often economic and political, and as such it is a core development issue that must be addressed alongside poverty reduction and universal access to basic services."