Afghanistan Eyes Newborns with Birth Certificate Drive

August 04, 2006 11:00 PM
by Devin Felter
The Afghan government will be partnering with the United Nations in an attempt to provide all newborns with birth certificates.
“If you ask people in Afghanistan how old they are, you are likely to get a vague response,” reports NPR. “Such vagueness is not due to vanity, nor to any objection to the question. Instead, it is because many people in Afghanistan do not actually know how old they are.”

The Afghani government, with the support of UNICEF, will be attempting to register all of its newborns, a measure intended to increase the quality of life of its citizens as well as bolstering individual proof of age and identity.

Afghanistan’s government says that less than 1 percent of its citizens have birth certificates.

Beginning in Kabul, the nation’s capital, the United Nations will be assisting the Afghani government’s push to register all of the country’s newborns before the end of 2009.

But the birth certificate drive is not merely about health care and education. “Having identity, proper identity, is everyone’s human right,” says Najibullah Hameem, a UNICEF child protection specialist in Kabul.
UNICEF, the UN branch funding the program, has been working with other governments facing similar problems.

Reporting that birth certificates were denied to 1 in 6 Latin American children, UNICEF began work last summer to address this problem with politicians in the region. “Without a birth certificate,” UNICEF says, “millions of children are excluded from basic services such as health and education and face daily exploitation and risk.”

UNICEF also worked with Madagascar in 2004 in an attempt to provide birth certificates to those children who lacked them: approximately 2.5 million children, about 30 percent of Madagascar’s child population.

The work by UNICEF mirrors Pakistan’s recent efforts to account for Afghani refugee children with the help of the UNHCR, the UN group that specializes in refugee rights. This program attempted to provide birth certificates to children born in the 15 refugee camps designed to shelter Afghanis who had fled the war in Afghanistan in 2001.

Even though the Afghani government is beginning to provide all children with a birth certificate, the UN reports that human rights abuses still frequently occur in cases of detained Afghani children, including lack of education and health care. “A punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice seems to be still predominant in Afghanistan,” says the UN Children’s Fund.

The war-torn regions in Afghanistan will pose many problems for its government and UNICEF as they begin their attempt at complete newborn registration. Widespread conflict and the difficulty of reaching remote locations will be two of the main hurdles in making the 2009 goal a success.

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