Birth certificates ticket to resources, opportunities for poor


The three cards she holds in her rough hands represent a triumph of maternal devotion over Pakistan\’s notoriously Byzantine bureaucracy. For her daughters–Sonya, 5, Sana, 3, and 4-month-old Aliza–the hard-won birth registration cards offer nothing less than an escape from the devastating poverty that has blighted their family for generations.

Sarfaz is pinning her daughters\’ hopes–and her own–on something that citizens of more developed countries take for granted: birth registration. Considered a fundamental human right in most countries, such basic identification is relatively rare in Pakistan, where 40 percent of all men and as many as 52 percent of all women are unregistered.

Without a birth certificate, people can\’t find jobs or participate in the political process; they can\’t go to school or access health care. They are in effect, non-persons.

According to UNICEF, an estimated 52 million children go unregistered every year. So numerous are these \”missing\” individuals that no one really knows for certain what the populations of the worst-affected countries really are. Providing proper government services depends on accurate population information. As a result, skewed data leads to skewed spending priorities. To establish a health facility in Pakistan, the government requires a population of 20,000 individuals. Because an accurate count is unavailable, many communities are without a health facility.

Lack of registration also has an effect on maternal and infant mortality. To deploy a maternal and newborn health mobile clinic, the government requires population data showing that at least 600 women of reproductive age reside in a given area.

\”We have no idea how many women and newborns are dying, because no one is keeping records,\” said Sarmad Iqbal Khan, a World Vision program manager in Pakistan. \”Without registration, there are no means of measuring the extent of the problem, where it is occurring and how best to address it. Funds go unallocated and women and children continue to die because no one actually knows what\’s going on.\”

World Vision and an organization called Good Thinkers are working to register women and their daughters by deploying mobile registration vans that drive directly to communities and register family members there. During the spring and summer in 2009 and 2010, their effort saw nearly 6,000 people registered. Eighty percent of those were women and girls.

Although the project has been a success, bureaucratic delays continue. Encouragement from the international community during this week\’s United Nations meetings and continued advocacy will help afford more families this fundamental right.