Pakistan: Birth Certificates Mean New Life
For 33 years, Najma never left her village in Gulabad, Pakistan. More importantly, this wife and mother of five also had not existed in the eyes of the government.
Neither did any of her children.
Traditional cultural practices limited her ability to travel, as did her awareness of the importance of an official identity.
“We used to guess the ages of our children, and nobody had a real clue about having a birth certificate in the village,” said Fayyaz Ali, Najma’s husband.
“But now we know having no registration means no legal existence, and therefore no rights as citizens.”
Najma’s story — and that of her children — is not unique. A little more than one in four Pakistani children under age 5 has a birth certificate.
Nearly half of the world’s children younger than 5 do not have birth certificates, according to UNICEF.
The reasons include lack of political will, inadequate infrastructure, and low awareness among parents about the importance of obtaining one.
Without a birth certificate, millions of children each year remain invisible to authorities.
They’re at risk of being denied access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, and obtaining their inheritance.
Children who don’t legally exist are more vulnerable to exploitation such as forced labor or trafficking into the sex trade.
Many adolescents without proper identification are unable to enroll in higher education and struggle to find employment.
In areas of Pakistan affected by the 2010 floods, World Vision helped more than 2,600 people obtain or reclaim their birth certificates and national identity cards through the “Nai Zindagi,” or “new life,” project.
Sensitive to cultural practices that limit families’ mobility, World Vision worked with local and national government to, dispatch mobile registration vans to facilitate registrations at people’s doorsteps.
About 400 children in Gulabad have been registered and are now able to enroll in school, receive healthcare services, and exercise other legal rights.
“Birth registration is the first step in ensuring all children have a legal existence and can enjoy their basic rights… Identity and nationality are a birthright of every child,” said World Vision’s Waseem Khan.
The lowest ranking nations reporting the percentage of children under 5 with birth registrations:
1. Somalia - 3%
2. Liberia - 4%
3. Afghanistan - 6%
4. Ethiopia - 7%
5. Chad - 9%
6. Bangladesh - 10%
7. Zambia - 14%
8. Tanzania - 16%
9. Uganda - 21%
10. Guinea-Bissau - 24%
11. Pakistan - 27%
12. Democratic Republic of Congo - 28%
Written by Chris Huber. With reporting from Muhammad Ali, a World Vision communications officer in Pakistan.