Johannesburg - As many as 95 million children have not had their births registered across Sub Saharan Africa, and if decisive action is not taken, these numbers will rise even higher, UNICEF warned on Thursday. 

UNICEF released this data at the ongoing 4th Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration and called on African countries, so as to prioritise birth registration as a first and critical step to a functional national Civil Registration and Vital Statistics system.

“Such levels of invisibility cannot persist. The cost is too high,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “With no proof of identity, proof of age, nor of nationality, an unregistered child is vulnerable to violations such as child marriage, child labour and recruitment to armed forces.”

Trend analysis showed that birth registration coverage rates have not improved across Sub-Saharan Africa over the last 16 years.

UNICEF said the rapidly growing child population, coupled with current trends of slow rates of change means there could be close to 115 million unregistered children in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, short of the Sustainable Development Goal Target 16.9 that aims to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.

“Experiences from several countries on the continent show that coupling health and civil registration services can resolve poor infant registration rates,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. 

“Countries such as Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, Namibia, and Ethiopia have almost doubled their new-born registration by simply making the two sectors interoperable.”

UNICEF supports the African Programme on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (APAI-CRVS), which aims at permanently reforming civil registration systems including birth registration across the continent.