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Lack of birth registrations keeps children out of school

Sania says she loves going to school and learning with her friends.

August 2012: Sania, 7, is a very shy girl who lives in the slums of Islambad in Pakistan. She loves books and learning and was keen to go to school after graduating from a preschool supported by Plan Pakistan’s early childhood care and development (ECCD) initiative.

As her former caregiver Rehana observed, “She loves studying and questioning. She is now 7 years old and it is time for her to go to primary school.”

But Sania faced a challenge, bigger even than overcoming the initial resistance of her father, who had thought education was wasted on a girl: Sania had no birth certificate. Without one, it’s difficult to enroll in any primary school.

Low birth registration

Sania was one of many Pakistani children who have been denied the right to be registered after birth, a right that leads to benefits like education and protects against child labour and child marriage.

In some districts of Pakistan, fewer than 1 in 10 births are registered – and it’s especially tough for girls. In Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province, for example, from January 2005 to February 2008, 5.7% of boys had their births registered compared to just 3.6% of girls. With statistics appearing to show fewer girls than actually exist, funding for girls’ education has been seriously shortchanged.

On the books

In 2000, Plan initiated a package of programmes targeting children, communities, schools, media, and local and national authorities to sort out Pakistan’s birth registration troubles.

With support from the local government and the National Database and Registration Authority, Plan piloted its efforts in 4 districts of Khyber Pakhunkwha before scaling up to cover the entire province, as well as 4 districts of Baluchistan province and 2 of Sindh. As a result, more than 1,600,000 children have had their births registered.

But some children still fall through the cracks. There are pockets, including the slum where Sania lives, where the campaign struggles to reach. “Most parents don’t bother registering their children, especially girls, at birth. Some parents cannot envision its advantages,” said Sania’s father.

All of Sania's uncertainty and heartache could have been avoided had she been registered at birth. But luckily, this story has a happy ending: Though not the ideal solution, an alternative document to register her was used and with a little help from Plan Sania eventually got a place in a primary school -- where she belongs.

“I like playing and studying with my new friends very much,” she said.