An Identity for Every Child: Birth Registration and Equity in Ghana

by Emelia Allan

“If children count…we must count them.”

©Emelia Allan/UNICEF
©UNICEF Ghana/Emelia Allan

March 18, 2015. Article 7 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) stipulates that “the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”[i] Yet nearly 230 million of the world’s children are still not registered at birth. In 2002, the United Nations General Assembly adopted A World Fit for Children, a resolution that reaffirmed the commitments of governments to ensure registration at birth as a critical step towards protecting children from harm and exploitation and ensuring the fulfillment of their other rights.[ii]

In Ghana, the Births and Deaths Registry is the legal authority responsible for registering all the county’s births and deaths. This body has worked hard to improve the coverage rate of birth registration of children less than 5 years of age. Through a mix of interventions, including awareness campaigns and removal of registration fees for children less than a year old, the registry managed to increase birth registration for children under 5 from 51 percent to 63 percent between 2006 and 2011.[iii]

However, this significant progress cannot mask the fact that more than 35 percent of children born every year remain unregistered. A 2013 UNICEF supported bottleneck analysis of birth registration in Ghana begins to explain this continued gap. The analysis indicates that the registry lacks sufficient capacity to meet the increased demand for registration that arose as the population became more aware of the importance of registering their children’s births. The report further indicates that unregistered children represent a wide range of geographical and socioeconomic levels. Their numbers and variety exhaust the registry’s current capacity to reach every Ghanaian child.[iv]

Since 2009, the birth registration coverage rate has not exceeded 65 percent. This remains a serious concern, given that all children born in Ghana are entitled to be registered at birth. Of greater concern are the disparities between regions, within regions, between urban and rural areas, and between socio-economic groups.[v]

Emelia-Blog1-photoAccording to the country’s 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey report, children from poor families and those in rural areas are the least likely to have a birth certificate. For example, 72 percent of urban children are registered, compared with only 55 percent of their rural counterparts. On a regional level, children in the Greater Accra region are more likely to be registered, at 77 percent, compared with those in the Western region (49 percent).   A look at wealth quintiles also reveals that the percentage of registered births increases from 47 percent among the poorest households to 82 percent among the richest. In addition, children with mothers who have no education are less likely to be registered (53 percent) than those whose mothers have secondary or higher education (83 percent).[vi]

Aggravating these disparities are underlying structural weaknesses caused by unpredictable and inadequate financing for birth registration services. Among other challenges are insufficient human resources, transportation, and supplies. Given this backdrop, Ghana’s Births and Deaths Registry is currently unable to deliver equitable, accessible, and timely birth registration services to children. Without strategic action, the registry may not attain its goal of achieving a 90 percent birth registration coverage rate by 2016.
Despite the mounting challenges, there is reason to hope that all children in Ghana will be registered at birth in the near future. With 2016 soon approaching, the government has set new indicators to improve birth registration services. These include ensuring that at least 75 percent of children below age 1, those under 5 in rural communities, and 70 percent of those under 5 from the poorest wealth quintile are registered by 2016.

Some clear actions have already been taken towards this commitment. They include mobile registration services in hard-to-reach areas, improved supply of registration materials, and renewed collaborative efforts with the health and education systems. Discussions to partner with communication networks to apply technology to improve registration coverage are now taking place. Moreover, efforts are underway to reform civil registration and vital statistics systems nationally, in order to improve national planning across all sectors of the country, including those of particular relevance to children.

If children count, then we must count them.


[i] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990).
[ii] UNICEF (2013). Every Child’s Birth Right: Inequities and Trends in Birth Registration.
[iii] UNICEF (2013).
[iv] Ghana Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (2013). Birth Registration in Ghana: A Bottleneck Analysis for Improved Coverage that Leaves No One Out.
[v] Ghana, Ministry of Local Government (2013).
[vi] Ghana Statistical Service (2011). Ghana Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (with An Enhanced Malaria Module and Biomarker).

Emelia AllanEmelia Allan is a UNICEF child protection officer based in Ghana and a Spring 2015 G. Barrie Landry fellow at the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights.