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Millions of Asian children living in stateless limbo


BANGKOK, 14 March 2006 – International children’s agencies today called for urgent and far-reaching action to ensure that every child receives a birth certificate, a piece of paper that is crucial for international efforts to combat global poverty.

Speaking at the opening of the 4th Asia and Pacific Regional Conference on Universal Birth Registration in Bangkok, Plan International and UNICEF warned that without efficient and sustained improvements in birth registration systems, tens of millions of children born this year alone will go without any official record of identity and legally cease to exist.

“We know that an unregistered child is a vulnerable child, who will forever be condemned to live on the margins of society” Rima Salah, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, said at the conference opening. “Our objective is clear – free birth registration and a free birth certificate for every child in every country. A record of identity often serves as the key in many countries and communities as to whether a child can go to school, get health care when sick, and be legally protected from abuse and exploitation.”

Yet across the regions, complicated and costly procedures, large distances between registration sites, and lack of awareness amongst parents on how or why to register, continue to create barriers to birth registration. The barriers may be many, but the responsibility lies squarely with one group, governments. Without active government support, universal birth registration will not happen.

“Despite the fact that the right to be registered at birth is a legal right well established under international law, this issue is not yet given the priority it warrants.” said Jim Emerson, the Chief Operations Officer of Plan International. “Successful birth registration is possible even in the poorest countries, but it requires commitment. It is every government’s responsibility to provide that commitment along with the political will and resources required. It’s our job to assist them to live up to that responsibility.”

In the developing world, the highest percentage of unregistered births, approximately 70 per cent, occurs in South Asia, while in East Asia and the Pacific the figure is 35 per cent.

The agencies acknowledged that despite significant progress, there was still so much more to do to ensure every child, everywhere was counted. They urged the civil registrars from 26 countries in Asia and the Pacific attending the conference to rapidly accelerate their efforts, particularly for the poor, rural, ethnic, and marginalized groups, who make up the bulk of those left out.

“We have an opportunity during the next four days to not only share ideas and learn from each other’s experiences, but also to strengthen the networking between those who are responsible for birth registration,” said Carmelita Ericta, Civil Registrar General in the Philippines. “Many of the problems we confront are common and increasingly, as the world becomes more interconnected, transcend national borders. By forging stronger links we believe we will be better able to tackle these complex problems and ensure all our children are registered and granted citizenship.”

During the conference, more than 200 delegates, including civil registrars, civil society organizations and human rights advocates, will seek to identify ways to register more children, debating issues including legal reforms to strengthen laws and simplify procedures, and how to increase public awareness on the importance of registration and build more solid and permanent systems to sustain it.

The right to a name and nationality is enshrined in Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and was reaffirmed by Governments in the 2002 General Assembly World Fit for Children Declaration.

As well as being a fundamental human right, registration also plays a pivotal information role, allowing societies to better plan, monitor and report on progress towards Development goals. Registration data improve the accuracy of population census counts, providing governments with more detailed and accurate statistics for basic social services, infrastructure and development programmes. As countries in the region strive to track their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, comprehensive data are more important than ever before.

Note to the Editors: Plan International and UNICEF are jointly organizing the conference, the fourth of its kind to promote birth registration in Asia and the Pacific. Media are welcome to attend the conference and are encouraged to register in advance. In addition, key experts for interviews, case studies and other background information will be available. A final press conference will be held on 10:15 am on Friday 17th March at the Grand Mercure Fortune Hotel, Rachadaphisek Rd., Dindaeng, Bangkok, Thailand. The closest metro (MRT) station is Rama 9. ***


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