SPECIAL REPORTS

Claiming Their Birth

Many in Bukina Faso striving to claim their legal identity

They live in the world’s poorest societal climate. What amounts to a daily struggle within the vortex of extreme environmental conditions and an economic system that leaves millions living on less than a dollar. Millions of this people within this harsh system face an even grimmer reality due to the fact that they go without what so many just consider inherently part of their existence: they don’t have proof of their own birth.

A great bulk of the population of the country Burkina Faso, in West Africa, do not have a legal identity. As a result, they face discrimination of basic services and are even denied human rights.

But there is now hope for those that struggle without the piece of paper that gives them a legal stamp to be alive. After this year, possibly five million lives will be changed through the program, and five million names will be added to the government database that tracks all citizens.

The government of Burkina Faso – along with UNICEF and other partners – has launched a free birth-registration campaign targeting 5 million of its more than 14 million inhabitants, with a focus on children and young people up to 18 years of age. The program will be in place for 12 months.

That effects of those without birth certificates is alarming, especially for children. Children without birth certificates are susceptible to illegal activities that consume their everyday lives, such as child trafficking and marriage, posing threats of criminalization. They make their way through life impoverished, abandoned, uneducated, and malnourished.

In Burkina Faso alone, according to the United Nations, there is one in three children living without a birth certificate today.

Article seven of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that national governments must register children immediately after birth, and every child has the right to have his or her birth registered - a critical step in ensuring a child's rights throughout life.

Many Burkina Faso residents have been considered “nameless” and without personal rights for decades, according to the law. Birth certificates have been available to the public, but unaffordable or geographically inaccessible for many citizens until recently.

With high costs previously associated with the registration no longer an issue, soon all families will have an equal voice, chance, and civil rights.

Having a “name” will make it easier to find a decent job, provide food for their families and an opportunity to vote, receive the proper medical care, as well as receive a formal education.

Hope is indeed on the horizon. With a name given at birth officially claimed by the government, many will receive the rights and dignities afforded as part of that birth into this world.