Plan International has been promoting Universal Birth Registration (UBR) since 1998 through a combination of advocacy at national and international levels; by raising awareness within communities; and by building civil registration capacity in-country. In 2005, Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the UN and Archbishop Desmond Tutu officially launched Plan’s global campaign on UBR. As recently as 2013, UNICEF estimated that as many as 230 million children under the age of 5 still have not been registered.
From the early 2010’s, Plan became a leading international nongovernmental organization (NGO) working on Digital Birth Registration (DBR), so that children can better access their rights and reduce their vulnerability. Without a birth certificate, children are in effect invisible – they don’t have access to education, health care benefits, protection from threats like trafficking and child marriage, or a number of other services afforded to legal citizens.
As part of Plan’s Count Every Child initiative, the DBR program helps governments to improve birth registration rates and extend the reach of registration through the appropriate use of technology and strengthened civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems.
DBR is an innovative program that builds on Plan’s global experience of birth registration by using digital technologies (including mobile phones) to register births. This approach can reduce the considerable barriers to registration still seen in many countries, such as: large distances between communities and registration centers; high costs of travel, accommodation and loss of earnings when registering a child; and complicated paper-based processes and bureaucracy.
Working across numerous countries to establish and further promote civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems, Plan’s goal is not only to track major life events such as births, deaths, and marriages, but also to provide access to services and protection from exploitation.
Plan’s work in this space has led to tangible changes in policy, practice and the lives of community members. To date, Plan’s campaigns have contributed to the registration of over 40 million children in 32 countries and to improving birth registration legislation in 30 percent of those targeted countries. Some specific examples include:
- Between 2005 and 2007, Plan successfully lobbied governments in Brazil, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia to bring about free registration, improved budget allocation for civil registration and the integration of birth registration into national actions plans.
- In Cambodia, more than 7 million people received birth certificates during a 10 month birth registration drive supported by Plan. A similar success was achieved in Indonesia with support from Aviva.
- In West Africa, Plan successfully raised awareness on the importance of birth registration in communities through information, education and communication (IEC) activities and media campaigns. In Malawi, messages were spread at football matches, in Burkina Faso films were shown at Fespaco, Africa’s largest film festival and ten West African countries broadcast special radio programmes made by children.
- Plan and partners held the ‘First Regional Conference on Birth Registration in West and Central Africa’ in Dakar, Senegal in 2004, followed by the ‘Second Eastern and Southern Africa Conference on UBR’ in Kenya in 2005. The conferences proved highly successful in advocating for policy and practice reform on birth registration and brought together ministers, civil registrars, practitioners, children and young people.
- Plan’s work on legal and policy reform in Sierra Leone led to the government’s review of the existing Births and Deaths Act and the extension of the registration period of births from 30 days to 90 days.