What happens when… you give a child a birth certificate?

A Cambodian child with her birth certificate

You probably haven’t given your birth certificate much thought, except for when you’ve had to hunt it down to apply for a passport, register the birth of your own child, or undertake some other life admin task.

But that simple piece of paper is gold for a child in poverty – it’s the difference between being seen and not being seen, between an easy road and a very hard one.

It’s estimated the births of one-quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide have never been recorded. The flow-on effects is enormous.

Without legal proof of existence, children are invisible – and that’s not as fun as it sounds. They often can’t register for school or for public healthcare. They are also easy targets for unscrupulous employers, human traffickers, or armed groups looking to recruit fighters because it’s hard to protect children you don’t know are there. Children in this category who are also from ethnic minorities, with disabilities, or who are orphaned, homeless or displaced are at even greater risk.

It may just be a piece of paper, but a birth certificate can unlock a very different future for a child. It is one of the most powerful tools you can give a child, for life. That’s why ensuring children have proof they exist is often one of the first things we do when we partner with a community in need, and here’s why:

 Children can go to school

With a birth certificate, children have higher chances of attaining an education

In most countries, a birth certificate is needed as proof of identity and age to enrol in school and/or register for exams. Without it, children risk missing out on education altogether, so they are disadvantaged from the very start. It will hurt their confidence, their self-worth, and their future job prospects – making it harder to escape poverty.

Children can access health care

Healthcare can be promptly access and given to children when they have proper identification

With proof of identity, children can access important health services like hospital and community health care when they need it or receive important childhood vaccinations to set them on a course of better health for life. Without it, they can miss out on free or subsidised government-health initiatives, be forced to pay higher fees than others or their parents may make tough decisions to forgo medical support altogether – sometimes with life-altering consequences.

Children are better protected

When a child has proper documented age, they can be better protected from abuse, exploitation and trafficking

A birth certificate provides a child with proof of their age. Without it, they are more vulnerable to being forced into early marriage, child labour or fighting for the armed forces. It also provides proof of a child’s parents and nationality, which protects them against trafficking, illegal adoption and family separation, particularly if they are migrants or refugees.

Children can start adulting when they grow up

With a birth certificate, the foundation of adult legalities are also laid out and children need not worry further about their future and face additional limited possibilities

As children grow up and become young adults, they need a birth certificate as proof of identity to open a bank account, access social services, register to vote, obtain a passport to travel, enter the formal job market, and buy or inherit property – all things that enable someone to become a fully contributing member of their community and progress in life. Without it, they are held back and their options are limited despite the goals or dreams they may have.

Existing gender discrimination means in 25 countries, women still don’t have the same rights as men to register the birth of their children or pass their own nationality onto their own children. Girls are also more likely than boys to never enrol in school or to be married before they are 18, and without a birth certificate, the risk of both is even higher. When you give a girl a birth certificate, it helps her to even the score and set her on a path of greater equality from the start. She has enough to overcome already.

Child sponsorship helps children break free from poverty, for good. For many children that includes helping them get a birth certificate – and all the freedoms it unlocks.

Thank you for helping us make sure every child is counted.

Written By: 
World Vision