Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 18th 2017 Contents B4 life
Monday, September 18, 2017
Millions of world's children lack any record of their births
Would a 15-year-old girl be married off by
her parents in violation of the law? Would
another girl, who looks even younger, get
justice after an alleged statutory rape at
the hands of an older man?
In their impoverished communities in
Uganda, the answers hinged on the fact
that one girl had a birth certi icate and
the other didn't. Police foiled the planned
marriage after locating paperwork that
proved the irst girl was not 18 as her
parents claimed. The other girl could not
prove she was under the age of consent;
her aunt, who's also her guardian, has
struggled to press charges against the
builder who seduced and impregnated
"The police were asking me many
questions about proof of the girl's birth
date," said the aunt, Percy Namirembe,
sitting in her tin-roofed shantytown home
in Masaka near the shores of Lake Victoria
in south-central Uganda. "I don't have
evidence showing the victim is not yet 18."
As Namirembe spoke, her niece sat
beside her, her belly swollen and a vacant
stare on her face.
In the developed world, birth certi icates
are often a bureaucratic certainty.
However, across vast swaths of Africa and
South Asia, tens of millions of children
never get them, with potentially dire
consequences in regard to education,
health care, job prospects and legal rights.
Young people without IDs are vulnerable
to being coerced into early marriage,
military service or the labor market before
the legal age. As adults they may struggle
to assert their right to vote or inherit
"They could end up invisible," said
Joanne Dunn, a child protection specialist
With support from Unicef and various
non-governmental organisations, many
of the worst-affected countries have
worked to improve their birth registration
rates. In Uganda, volunteers go house
to house in targeted villages, looking for
unregistered children. Many babies are
born at home, missing out on registration
procedures that are being modernised at
hospitals and health centers.
By Unicef 's latest count, in 2013, the
births of about 230 million children
under age ive---35 per cent of the world's
total---had never been recorded. Later this
year, Unicef plans to release a new report
showing that the igure has dropped to
below 30 per cent.
India is the biggest success story.
It accounted for 71 million of the
unregistered children in Unicef 's 2013
report --- more than half of all the Indian
children in that age range. Thanks to
concerted nationwide efforts, Unicef says
the number of unregistered children has
dropped to 23 million --- about 20 per cent
of all children under age ive.
Uganda is a potential success story
as well. Unicef child protection of icer
Augustine Wassago estimates that Uganda's
registration rate for children under ive is
now about 60 per cent, up from 30 per
cent in 2011.
While obtaining a birth certi icate is
routine for most parents in the West, it
may not be a priority for African parents
who worry about keeping a newborn alive
Lack of registration hampers Uganda's
efforts to enforce laws setting 18 as the
minimum age for marriage. Child marriage
remains widespread, due largely to
parents hoping to get a dowry from their
daughters' suitors. Even when the police
are alerted, investigators face an uphill
task pressing charges if they cannot prove,
with a birth certi icate or other of icial
document, that the girl is a minor.
But in the recent case in the Rakai
administrative district, police detective
Deborah Atwebembeire was able to prevail
in a surprise raid on a wedding party
because the bride-to-be's birth certi icate
proved she was 15.
"When we reached there, I heard one
man say, 'Ah, but the police have come.
Let me hope the girl is not young,'"
The girls' parents claimed she was
born in March 1999, which would have
made her old enough to consent. Yet
only months before, the parents told
birth registration of icials she was born in
October 2001. (AP)
A pregnant 15-year-old girl who was the victim
of statutory rape, sits in the house where she
stays in Masaka, Uganda. She is having
difficulty pressing charges against the
perpetrator because she cannot prove that she
is under 18.
PICTURE AP PHOTO
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