WASHINGTON – Legislation encouraging countries to support measures to accurately register new births and foster the education and rights of girls in developing nations was signed into law by President Obama earlier this month.
The Girls Count Act 2015 was passed unanimously by the Senate, just a month after its initial introduction.
First introduced by Florida Senator Marco Rubio in March, the Girls Count Act 2015 makes it U.S. policy to “encourage countries to support the rule of law and ensure girls and boys of all ages are able to fully participate in society,” and “address the needs of birth registries in countries where girls are systematically under-counted.”
The bill further grants the Secretary and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to support programs that address birth registration, prevent discrimination and increase access to birth certificates, along with programs working to ensure ownership, inheritance, education and other rights for women and girls.
The bill additionally requires that Congress be given evaluations and relevant reports detailing the amount and success of U.S. foreign assistance addressing gender inequality and birth registration systems, as well as specific information on programs developed to address issues concerning girls.
“For too long, the critical issue of making sure children – especially girls – are registered at birth has been overlooked. That ends now. For girls worldwide who are not registered, the signing of the Girls Count Act is an opportunity to come out of the shadows and have a brighter future,” said Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
Globally, 1 in 3 children are not registered and have no legal birth certificate. According to UNICEF, that means that nearly 230 million children under the age of five have never been registered, and even when properly registered, tens of millions still lack official birth certificates.
While children in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are disproportionately affected by weak registration systems according to Rubio, even economically strong nations, such as China, have been affected by inaccurate birth registrations. Over time, unregistered children run an increasing risk of marginalization, as their access to education, healthcare and even the job market is jeopardized by their “unofficial” status.
In addition to legal hurdles, broken registration systems, whether due to a lack of infrastructure to accurately tally births, or a culture where girls are not prioritized, the inaccuracy of female birth records can make assessing female access to education and other resources difficult, according to GirlUp.org. The amount of U.S. foreign assistance directed towards women’s and girls’ education, as a result, may not be enough to address the full need of the nation.
The Girls Count Act 2015 makes it a focus of U.S. foreign policy to work towards addressing disparities in birth registration, improving the registration system, and ensuring that girls have equal opportunity and access to their country’s resources.
“The United States has the expertise and technological might to help confront this issue and make a difference in the lives of millions. By demonstrating our moral leadership and offering our assistance, we can empower the governments and entities that are committed to building a better future,” said Sen. Rubio in a press release.
– Gina Lehner