Have Recent Global Campaigns on Birth Registration Enhanced Children’s Claims to Citizenship? A Critical Examination of “Count Every Child” by Plan International.

A review paper by Irene K. Nyamu, Kenya (July 2014)

The near-universal ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) signals global acceptance of children’s rights-holding capacity, though to date claims to their rights, especially to citizenship, remain elusive. This may partly be attributable to the treatment of children’s rights as incremental and futuristic, becoming fully realizable only at the age of majority. The social construction of childhood, and the varied definitions of citizenship and its pragmatic application in different national contexts may also pose significant roadblocks to children’s acquisition of citizenship. This is especially true for those born to refugee parents, minority groups historically denied citizenship, and regional populations excluded for political reasons.

Though international instruments do not explicitly confer citizenship rights on individuals, the UNCRC creates the pathway towards its realisation by providing children with the right to acquire nationality, through the mechanism of birth registration. This paper explores the role of civil society organisations like Plan International (Plan) in enabling children to claim their rights, including their right to citizenship. It demonstrates how the seemingly mundane task of birth registration is being used to successfully extend child rights claims to other social benefits. This is in contrast to high profile advocacy campaign messages, which have the potential to stir up controversy in countries where children of minority groups are still excluded and the language of rights is considered threatening to the State.