Some people think that a birth certificate is just a piece of paper - dispensable and replaceable. But this cannot be said for the estimated 7.5 million Filipinos who are unregistered according to the Philippine Statistics Office.
“I was never registered, so I know the drawbacks of not having a birth certificate. I didn’t want my own children to experience the same issues,” shares mother of 6, Rubelita.
Rubelita, 34, is an informal settler from a slum community on the outskirts of the Tacloban City in the Philippines. The family survive on her husband Novecinto’s low wage as a construction worker, around Php300 (€5.30) on a good day.
Due to their impoverished state, buying food took priority over paying for her children to be registered. Thanks to her children’s godparents, 4 of her children were registered shortly after their birth but her 2 youngest were not registered. Her only option was to register them late.
Also known as delayed registration, late registration is the process a person must undergo if their birth was not recorded with the local civil registrar when they were born. It costs at least Php 1,000 (€17.70) per child. A huge amount for Rubelita that she could not spare - even for something as valuable as a birth certificate.
Unregistered children at risk
Rubelita and her 2 unregistered children, Rowena, 4, and Vicente, 2, are part of the estimated 25% of the population of Eastern Visayas, who have not been registered at birth, depriving them of some of their basic civil and democratic rights.
Without a birth certificate, you have no proof to show who you are and who your parents are.
“Without a birth certificate, you have no proof to show who you are and who your parents are. Also, without it, you cannot get an ID which you need when you are sick as you are denied services without identification,” explains Rubelita.
Birth registration, one of the basic rights of a child, is a foundation for protection and well-being. Without it, children are more vulnerable to harm, abuse and exploitation. They cannot access basic services like education and healthcare. They become easy targets for human trafficking as they are unlikely to be in school and do not appear in any official records.
Essentially, without civil registration, they are invisible in the eyes of the law.
Making children visible
As part of Plan International’s Collaborative Action against Trafficking, we are working in partnership with local civil registrars to obtain birth certificates for unregistered children, including Rowena and Vicente. After complying with all the necessary documentation requirements, the children recently received their birth certificates, with 10 more children due to receive theirs soon.
As well as facilitating the process of registering vulnerable children, we also conduct awareness raising training sessions in communities to help families recognise the value of registering their children to protect them from danger, abuse and exploitation.
“Although I am still unregistered, I am satisfied knowing that all my children, armed with this invaluable piece of paper, will have a better chance of growing up literate and safe,” says Rubelita.