More than 70,000 children born during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia at risk of exclusion if not registered, warns UNICEF
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MONROVIA, Liberia 31 July 2015 – UNICEF is supporting a drive by the Liberian Government to register more than 70,000 children whose births were not recorded during the Ebola crisis, leaving them vulnerable to marginalization and exclusion.
Birth registrations in 2014 and 2015 dropped sharply from pre-Ebola levels, according to Ministry of Health data. In 2013, before the onset of the virus, the births of 79,000 children were registered. In 2014, when many health facilities had closed or had reduced services due to the Ebola response, the number of registrations fell to 48,000 – a 39 per cent decrease over the previous year.
Just 700 children are reported to have had their births registered between January and May 2015.
“Children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Without citizenship, children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and will be in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.”
UNICEF is supporting the revamp of the registration systems, and will assist with training, logistics, and outreach efforts prior to a planned nationwide campaign later this year, with the aim of reaching all children not registered in 2014 and 2015.
“Children are the future of Liberia. We cannot jeopardize their future by not having their births registered,” says Hon. Bernice Dahn, Minister of Health in Liberia. “We have scaled up efforts to clear the backlog of birth registrations from before the Ebola outbreak, and are working with UNICEF and other partners to plan an intensive nationwide birth registration campaign in the coming months.”
In neighbouring Sierra Leone, where the Ebola emergency similarly weakened the country’s already fragile health systems, approximately 250,000 children were registered during a recent five-day birth registration and polio vaccination campaign.
“No child should suffer the indignity, or not have protection from a state or other entities, and be unable to access basic services that are every child’s right just because of a lack of a registered identity, says Yett. “We cannot, and should never let that happen.”
Prior to the Ebola outbreak, UNICEF helped increase birth registration rates in Liberia from 4 per cent –then the world’s second lowest rate – to 25 per cent in 2013.
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