Counting every child

From AFL goals scored, to numbers on the stock exchange, we live in a world of figures. At Plan, we’re in the game of counting one of the most important things in the world: children.

Ten years ago, Plan International launched a campaign called Universal Birth Registration to tackle an important issue: millions of children around the world weren’t being counted because the systems in place to register births weren’t up to par.

We didn’t know exactly how big the problem was because, as you can probably guess, the data was all over the place. If only civil registration was taken as seriously as basketball. In a way, it is, but instead of Nike and Adidas for sponsors, we’ve got governments, donors and not-for-profits. We’ve always known about the need for birth registration – we started working on programs as far back as 1998.

Every one has the right to prove who they are.

Birth registration is the proof of existence that helps a child obtain a legal identity. For so many people around the world, they can’t prove who they are; it makes them effectively invisible because they can’t prove who and how old they are. This can then make it difficult to go to school, get medical treatment, find a job, sign contracts, travel and more.

We had a lot of success with our Universal Birth Registration campaign, but eventually we came to realise that the game had changed, so in 2009 our campaign transitioned to focus globally on programme and advocacy work, while campaigning continued on a national level in various countries.


That quibble aside, we’re still looking at hundreds of millions of children who aren’t being counted. We’re seeing progress in the communities and countries in which we work, but there’s still a long way to go.

So it seems fitting that in 2015, the same year as the Millennium Development Goals finally reach the end of their natural life, we should be marking 10 years of Universal Birth Registration and its offshoot Count Every Child.

In that decade, Plan International working in partnership with governments, development agencies and the private sector helped register 40 million children around the world and influenced laws in 10 countries so that 153 million more can enjoy their right to a birth certificate. Birth registration gives those children more than a fighting chance of staying out of poverty while being able to reach their full potential and realise their dreams and ambitions.

Plan International runs Count Every Child activities in 36 programme countries and implements digital birth registration projects in four of those countries. Those are some tidy statistics indeed. But we’re still only scraping the surface. The real progress is going to be made in the next 10 years.


Girl Birth Certificate Kenya
Girls shows off her new birth certificate in Kenya.
Jafur Birth Certificate
Jafur proudly holds his birth certificate which Plan helped him obtain.
Rofika Brith Certificate
Rofika shows off her birth certificate in Bangladesh.

The future of counting every child

Registering every child is an achievable goal. There is political will to do this. We just have to take everything we’ve learnt in the last 10 years and put it all together. Through our research and experience, we’ve learnt that taking on birth registration alone isn’t going to deliver the home run everyone working in development is after. Actually, there’s a long game, a bigger picture, if you will.

An efficient system for registering births should make optimal use of all available technology and resources. Mobile phones, for example, are great for registering births and getting the data into a digitised system. This is one avenue we are exploring. But birth registration is just one part of a bigger system, one that registers all key life events, like births, deaths, marriages, divorce and more.

This complete system, a civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system, as we call it, helps get everyone in the picture while giving governments access to the most reliable data on their populations. When these systems work well, it’s like the difference between calculating a basketball player’s shot percentages using a pen and paper and a computer.


We want to keep the momentum of the last 10 years going and we hope that we can count on your support in future campaigning and advocacy work so that together we can Count Every Child.

Support Plan’s programs by becoming a Supporter of Change.


Isabel Dunstan | 18th August 2015

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