Calling birth registration a fundamental human right, one of the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassadors, singer/actor Harry Belafonte, today urged African countries to register all births.
"For children to count they must be counted," Mr. Belafonte said in a statement during a visit to Senegal, as part of his tour of Senegal and Kenya on behalf of UNICEF. "To deny children their legal documentation, their names, their identity is to jeopardize their very lives and to deny them a future as citizens."
In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 per cent of births - 17 million children - have gone unregistered. An estimated 50 million births out of 130 million globally were not registered in 2000, UNICEF said.
Belafonte, making his 11th UNICEF field trip, called on African governments to ensure that birth registration is compulsory, free and readily accessible and that a copy of the child's birth certificate is provided to parents at no charge.
"For many people, the family resources are sucked dry just trying to get to the registrar," Mr. Belafonte said. "To then be met with a fee, with discrimination, with resistance is just appalling."
Mr. Belafonte is attending the first West and Central African regional conference on birth registration, sponsored jointly by UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the non-governmental organization PLAN. The conference today and tomorrow brings together representatives of 24 countries to exchange ideas on improving birth registration systems.
According to UNICEF, registration helps a child get access to health care, school enrolment at the appropriate age, legal protection from child labour, child trafficking, and other child abuses, as well as protection from too early recruitment into armed services and prevention of illegal child marriage for girls. Those who are registered can also get passports, open bank accounts, vote and have the legal right to a nationality and to citizenship.
"The simple act of counting is an expression of a country's intent to take care of its people," Mr. Belafonte said.