Tag Archives: White Ribbon Alliance

The Universal Human Right to an Identity from Birth Explained

By Caroline Kinsella, Advocacy and Communications Intern, White Ribbon Alliance 

One of the more hidden human rights abuses around the world is the fact that one billion people have no legal proof of identity. Alarmingly, UNICEF estimates that about one in four children  under age 5, or 166 million, are unregistered and without any trace that they exist.  Conversations about reducing global poverty and protecting the health and human rights of  mothers and newborns must include the challenges of birth registration.

A single piece of paper has the power to transform a person’s future. Birth certificates are  necessary to access government services, life-saving medical treatment, a nationality and age related legal protections. Legal proof of birth is often required to attend school and apply  to higher education, as well as open a bank account and vote. Many of the individuals without a  birth certificate today are children who were never registered at birth. In some cases, nobody  knows for decades that a child does not have a birth certificate. 

In Uganda, Senfuka Samuel, who goes by Sam, applied for a master’s degree program that  required a birth certificate. As he did not have one, Sam had to venture to the hospital where he  was born. There, he discovered that hospital records before the year 2000, including any  proof of his birth, were destroyed in the civil war. Traveling hundreds of miles over two  weeks, Sam spent his own money to first get issued a necessary ‘birth notification’ – a slip of  paper with birth details handwritten by a midwife – to later gain a new legal birth certificate. 

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Respectful Maternity Care – A New Charter

I remember when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I was extremely apprehensive about the care I would receive because when I was pregnant with my first daughter I never felt like I was heard by my doctor and nurses and was even ridiculed because I questioned a medication they wanted me to take. By the time I was expecting for the second time I was cautious about where and with whom I would get care. I even walked out of a pre-natal care office because I didn’t like the vibe I was getting from the health workers. The last thing I wanted to deal with were doctors and nurses who really didn’t care about me and showed it. I was concerned only about delivering a healthy baby in a caring environment.

That was eleven years ago in North Carolina. Women the world over have experiences far worse than the doctors who treated me as just another patient. Some women are abused and belittled in public health facilities by nurses. The treatment is so bad that most women opt to deliver their babies in a hut as opposed to having to pay exorbitant costs and endure the degradation from health workers.

The problem may seem isolated, but in truth it is more widespread than we think not only in developing nations, but also here in the United States, especially among the poor.

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood has created a Respectful Maternity Care charter that lays out the tenets of proper care all expectant mothers deserve whether they live in Detroit or Djibouti.

I applaud this effort to ensure women are treated respectfully when they deliver their babies. Now, we just need to spread the word.