Birth registration: A passport to the future

More than a document, birth certificates are the foundation of child protection

A newborn at the Malalai Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, is about to receive his birth certificate. ©UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Khaliqyar

By Sohaila Khaliqyar

KABUL, Afghanistan, 25 May 2016 — When Nasiba gave birth to twin baby girls at the Malalai Hospital in Kabul, she was not discharged until she registered them. In Afghanistan, this seemingly straightforward process is in fact a vital step towards providing something most people have never had: a birth certificate.

“It’s important because the date and the place of the birth are recorded at the hospital, which will help us get a taskira [national ID]. We will need that to enroll them in school later,” says Nasiba, who lives in Qarabagh, a district 50 km north of Kabul where poverty is rife, even for families like hers who own a small patch of farmland.

Her two-year old son, who was born at home at the time, still doesn’t have a birth certificate. Nasiba now plans to register him too.

Nasiba watches over her newborn twins at the Malalai hospital in Kabul. They just received their vaccination cards and are on their way to get registered. By this simple gesture, Nasiba has already helped her baby girls’ future by ensuring they have a birth certificate. ©UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Khaliqyar

A pillar of child protection

Only 42 per cent of children under the age of five have a birth certificate. Even though they are required by law, decades of conflict and limited government resources have left Afghanistan with a poorly functioning birth registration system.

Yet, not only is birth registration a basic human right, it is also a critical first step to protect children from the moment they are born: It helps ensure they are vaccinated and receive shots at the right age; it enables them to enrol in school and provides the government with a tally to plan education budgets and school constructions; and it supports the battle against child labour, trafficking and child marriage. The latter, in turn, can contribute to reducing infant and maternal deaths.

A nurse registers newborn twins at a Kabul-based hospital before discharging the mother. 
©UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Khaliqyar

Efforts have been under way to remedy the problem for years, with limited results. But a renewed effort led jointly by the Ministries of Interior and of Public Health is breathing new life into the process by providing registration services on location, in the health care facilities, to ensure every child receives a birth certificate as soon as he or she is born.

Linking up with the health sector

“Working with the health sector to ensure the right of children to an identity is strategic and essential. It forms the foundation of a sound child protection system where all children can be protected from violence, abuse, and exploitation,” says Tatjana Colin, Chief of Child Protection with UNICEF Afghanistan.

Nasiba breastfeeds one of her baby girls after giving birth to twins at a hospital in Kabul. ©UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Khaliqyar

Establishing birth registration systems that are integrated with the health system also reduces costs and makes birth registration more accessible.

“The new standard operating procedure certified by the Minister of Public Health gives the responsibility to provide birth certificates for every newborn to all health centres where children are born to,” explains Khaksar Yousufi, Health Specialist with UNICEF Afghanistan.

For mothers like Nasiba, going through this process is also an opportunity to learn about fundamental infant health care needs like vaccination and the importance of breastfeeding.

“I got vaccination cards for my babies and I also learned about what vaccines I need for my children to protect them against different illnesses,” she says.


UNICEF supports communities and the Government to strengthen their civil and birth registration systems.