10/23/2017, 17.31
ASIA – CHINA

About a billion people are invisible, one third of them children

In China at least 60 million children have not been registered out of fear of the fines imposed by population control authorities. Non-registration does not allow children to attend school or receive social services. Unregistered people can become victim of human trafficking and organised crime.

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than a billion people around the world do not exist, have no identities, a situation that deprives a significant proportion of the world’s population of essential services such as health and education.

Many of these "invisible people” live in Africa and Asia, and more than one third are children who are susceptible to violence, the World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) programme recently warned.

The problem is particularly acute in geographical areas whose residents face poverty, discrimination, epidemics or armed conflicts.

Vyjayanti Desai, who manages the ID4D programme, said the issue arises from a number of factors, but stressed the distance between people and government services in developing areas.

In many cases, families are simply not told about the importance of birth registration and the consequences of non-registration, such as the loss of access to rights.

As a result, millions of children in Africa and Asia first encounter the administration only once they reach school age.

The political climate also discourages many families from allowing themselves to be officially identified.

“People fear to be identified from one ethnic group or from one nationality,” said Carolina Trivelli, Peru’s former development minister. “The government has sometimes – sadly – preferences for some groups rather than another.”

In many countries, children born out of wedlock or as a result of rape are sometimes deliberately concealed for fear of discrimination.

In China, avoiding birth registration was also deliberate for years for fear of repercussions due to the country’s one-child policy. The latter was repealed on 1st January 2016, but problems remain.

At present, especially in the countryside, the birth of second and third children is not registered to avoid the fines imposed by the population control authorities. It is estimated that up to 60 million nameless people exist in China.

Beyond being barred from attending school, these children can fall prey to violence ranging from forced labour for boys to early marriage for girls, this according to a 2013 UNICEF report. These children can also fall victim to human-trafficking.

“The legal invisibility of unregistered children makes it more likely that their disappearance and exploitation will go unnoticed by authorities,” said Anne-Sophie Lois, representative at the United Nations in Geneva and director of the children’s aid organisation Plan International.

To combat this huge problem, organisations are patiently working on the ground to identify these “invisible” people.

Digital technologies provide a tremendous boost, Lois said, as a way to “increase registration, provide legal documentation of vital events and produce statistics that are complete and accurate.”

Such technologies have allowed the Chinese government to plan effectively all the services a child might need, including vaccination programmes and education.

At the same time however, the World Bank recognises that centralised identification systems could expose vulnerable groups to risks linked to misuse of their personal data. To have a legal framework in place that protects privacy and personal data is key.

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