Invisible Children

Demographics of Invisibility

"Invisibility is a lack of hope, a lack of opportunity, and the inability to access the basic elements that define a safe, productive life, including education, health care, housing, food, clean water, sanitation, and security."  - Invisible Children

Unregistered Children


Each year across the world the births of about 50 million children are not registered, which translates to roughly one in every three live births worldwide.[i] This means that in the eyes of the government of their homelands, these children do not exist. Unregistered children lack a birth certificate, proof of their name, proof of their parents and place of origin.[ii] They become phantoms in the eyes of the state.

In 2012, only 60 per cent of all babies born were properly and officially registered by their home countries. In some countries the figures are stunning: only 3 per cent of all births in Somalia are registered, 4 per cent in Liberia and 10 per cent in Bangladesh. Eastern and Southern Africa had the highest regional incidence of unregistered births at 65 per cent, closely followed by South Asia at 64 per cent.[iii]

Registrations are lowest in rural communities and in regions with low literacy rates. Many low-income countries lack the administrative structure to process birth registrations. In Bangladesh registrations are the province of local governments, most of whom have few resources to do the job or to be present in remote communities. Countries with strong tribal traditions, such as Kenya, delegate the responsibility for registration to local chiefs. As a result, registrations at best are uneven, and at worst nonexistent.[iv]

Societal pressures and customs can accentuate these rates. In Vietnam, for example, single mothers are reluctant to register the births of illegitimate children, while in many countries, such as Nicaragua and Nepal, the father’s signature is required for proper registration. Children born to cross-border immigrants are often unreported as their parents seek to remain in the shadows of unwelcoming host countries.[v] In Indonesia parents must present a marriage certificate to register their child.[vi]

Even children who are registered face obstacles if they have no proof of that registration. Across the world more than one in seven registered children lack such proof. In some countries, fees for birth certificates place them outside the reach of impoverished families. Other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, do not regularly issue certificates, leaving officially registered children absolutely no evidence of their standing.[vii]

Without proper registration, options and opportunities, often already limited, evaporate. In many countries including Cambodia, Sudan and Yemen, a birth certificate is necessary for a child to attend school. In Turkey a certificate is needed to go beyond primary school, and in Sri Lanka it is a basic requirement to take graduation examinations. In Mexico a birth certificate is necessary for anyone to receive non-emergency medical treatment.[viii] Unregistered children may not access health care in Kyrgyzstan, and in Palestine access to health and welfare services is limited to those possessing documentation. In China, children without proper registration are not able to attend school or draw upon the state’s health and social service programs.[ix]

Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that all children “shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, [and] the right to acquire a nationality.”[x] Those children born without access to birth registration begin the descent into invisibility from the moment they draw their first breath.


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[i] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 14
[ii] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 6-7
[iii] www.who.int/pmnch/media/news/2013/birth_registration/en/
[iv] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 12-13
[v] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 12-13
[vi] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 12-13
[vii] www.who.int/pmnch/media/news/2013/birth_registration/en/
[viii] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 12-13
[ix] UNICEF, 2013. Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and trends in birth registration, p. 12-13
[x] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx, Article 7.