Invisible, Ignored and Vulnerable

Lin sighed and shook her head. No, none of her four children – Tivin, 7, Tivan, 6, Jivi, 4, or the baby, Siva, at a year and a half – were registered. And she couldn’t do the paper work as she had lost her identity card.

Without that essential piece of paper, people in Cambodia have no rights. They can’t go to school, get state medical help, vote, rent an apartment, open a bank account or get a passport.

They are under the radar screen and don’t count. As far as the government is concerned, they don’t exist, other than to be rounded up and dropped out in the country every once in a while.

Twenty-nine year old Lin and her children – her husband, Tran, died – live under a tree on Street 108 in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. There they eke out a bare existence on the money tourists give Lin for the baby. The older children filch what they can from the garbage and the market stalls in the area.

Without being registered, the children are well behind the eight ball.

The Statistics on Being Invisible

While 95.6 percent of babies in England and Wales are registered, the number drops to 10 percent in Bangladesh and plummets to three percent in Somalia and Liberia.

The Convention of the Rights of the Child declared that birth registration is a fundamental right. Governments need to know how many births and deaths there are each year, but in the developing world it continues to be a problem.

Why don’t parents register their children? The reasons vary, but often it is because of ignorance or not having access to the resources. Consequently, a child born in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be one of the 20 million who is not registered. In South East Asia, the number is calculated at 24 million. If these areas are combined, one in three children are not registered.

Unregistered children come from poverty-stricken situations and may end up being trafficked or forced into manual labor and paid very little. Children as young as 10 or 11 end up working as servants to get enough to eat.

What Can Be Done

The first step is that governments have to shift the policy to register every child into law. While this is a starting point, it needs to be followed with action. The process of registering children has to be made as simple as possible.

Officials need to go into the rural areas – particularly in Africa and Asia – both to register the children and to educate their parents about the importance of having a birth certificate.

Half-hearted attempts have proved futile and the non-registration problem continues to grow. Everyone needs to get involved to address the issue.