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What to Do about Lower Schooling Levels among Children without a Birth Certificate

Birth registration is the very first step to social inclusion, since it officially records a child’s entry into the world and establishes his or her existence under the law. Someone without a birth certificateis at risk of lifelong exclusion from benefits and rights, including access to health services, conditional cash transfers, and pensions.

The economics literature has not been highly focused on the links between birth registration and development, but a recent study by the IDB sheds light on how it contributes to perpetuating poverty and proposes solutions to the problem.

Based on a rigorous econometric study of household data for the Dominican Republic, the study shows that not having a birth certificate translates into lower educational attainment. While lacking birth registration does not impact the chances of entering school—thanks to laws that ensure universal access to education—it does causally reduce primary school completion rates and grades attained.     

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The probability of advancing to the second cycle of primary school falls by at least 22 percentage points for 11–18 year-olds without a birth certificate when compared to those with a certificate. Also, the overall educational attainment falls by at least half a grade for 7–18 year-olds. The report says that one of the main reasons children failed to continue their studies was because they lacked a birth certificate needed for their school to issue a diploma, a required document to enroll in subsequent stages of education.

What can the study in the Dominican Republic teach the rest of Latin America?

Even though on average only one in 10 children under the age of five in the region is undocumented—a level well below other developing regions of the world—the study outlines that not having a birth certificate has broad detrimental effects on development because, by leading to lower schooling, it also leads to fewer employment opportunities and a greater risk of poverty.

Evidence presented by the study shows that distance to the nearest civil registry office can be an important impediment to birth registration. So the region needs to devise innovative ways to reach out to the undocumented. Civil registries and schools need to work closely together to ensure that undocumented students who enroll can also obtain a birth certificate. It is a small price to pay now to help these children gain the basic opportunities later to learn and earn a livelihood.