Protecting children starts at birth, with a simple piece of paper we all take for granted—a birth certificate. But around the world, as many as 45% of all children under the age of five don't have one.
The Girls Count Act is a new bill in Congress right now that can help address this gap, and help ensure that all children count and are protected.
Protecting children starts at birth, with a simple piece of paper we all take for granted—a birth certificate.
Rose, a mother of two in Lebanon, doesn’t have identification cards for her children. “My children are growing year after year, with a big future ahead of them, but it would be impossible for them to work or obtain a school degree and get a job like any other Lebanese citizen,” she said. “I can’t even get them hospitalized.”
Although children from Lebanese fathers are entitled to receive the Lebanese nationality, a large number of these children are not registered (meaning they do not have a birth certificate) and thus have no access to public education and health services.
“It is a small plastic card, called ID card. Many has it, but they have no idea what it’s worth,” said Charbel, 23. “There’s nothing to prove who you are. All your life depends on this ID.”
Within the current Lebanese system, only the father is entitled to provide the Lebanese citizenship and to register the newly born child after receiving the proper documentation from the doctor or midwife and then from the mayor. Then, the father has to take these documents and register the child in the personal affairs unit under the Ministry of Interior in the capital.
If the father doesn’t register the child within one year of birth, he cannot do it later on without going through a lawsuit.
“In many cases, failing to have an ID leaves children with no prospects for the future. They cannot even dream of tomorrow,” said Sanaa Maaould, World Vision Lebanon Advocacy and Policy Officer. “Often times they are vulnerable to various child protection issues.”
Lack of registration is not unique to Lebanon—in many places around the world, children are not registered at birth. In fact, about 230 million children under the age of 5 globally are not officially registered. They are invisible to their government and face increased vulnerability to abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence.
Birth registration is a foundation of protecting children. With a birth certificate, a child can access an education, healthcare, and other social services. If a child is separated from his family as a result of a disaster or conflict, a birth certificate helps them reunite. A birth certificate also proves a child’s age and can provide protection from child labor and early marriage. And if a child is abused or exploited, a birth certificate helps ensure that they receive access to services.
World Vision works with communities to train and empower teachers, healthcare workers, social workers, police, and others to protect the children they interact with and to respond if a child is abused, neglect, or exploited. Our job is made easier when a country knows that a child exists and they are able to fully participate in society.
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The Girls Count Act seeks to address these gaps by elevating birth registration in U.S. foreign policy and assistance. More than 100 countries do not have systems to register births.
The Girls Count Act would encourage the Department of State and the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) to work with these governments to develop strong registration systems and to increase registration. This isn’t new spending. It’s a way to ensure that a simple piece of paper isn’t overlooked in all the other work that the United States is doing to protect children.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your representative to voice your support for The Girls Count Act. Use our call form to look up your representative’s number, view a suggested call script, and log your call so we know you took action with us!
Jessica Bousquette is an Advocacy Associate for World Vision U.S. Additional reporting by Patricia Mouamar, Communications Coordinator, World Vision Lebanon.
One of the best ways to help ensure that a child is safe and protected is through sponsorship. Choose a child to sponsor today!