• Thompson Reuters Foundation


Nearly 1 in 5 Aboriginal children born in Western Australia has no birth documents with most unregistered children born to teenage mothers and facing further social disadvantage later in life, research showed on Sunday.

A study published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health matched data from the state’s midwife records against the birth registry office, and found that 18 percent of Aborigine children did not have birth certificates.

Between 1980 and 2010, there were nearly 50,000 aboriginal births in Western Australia, and of that number, 4,628 children under 16 were not recorded at birth.

Globally, around 290 million children do not possess a birth certificate, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF. Without one, they can face problems later in life if they want to enroll in university, find employment, open a bank account, buy property, access justice or get a passport.

In the state of Queensland, another study found that 17 percent of aboriginal children aged between 2 and 4 were unregistered.

“Australia is a signatory to several international conventions to ensure that all children have the right to be registered immediately after birth, but an unacceptably high number of aboriginal children don’t achieve this right,” said lead author of the study Alison Gibberd.

Aboriginal children born in Western Australia to mothers younger than 16 were five times more likely to be unregistered than if they had mothers over 30 years of age, the report said.

The state has the third-highest Aborigine population in the country, with 88,270 people identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, according to 2011 census data.

“Successfully completing the birth registration process requires a reasonable level of literacy and the practical means of returning the completed paperwork,” said Gibberd, a researcher from the University of Sydney.

“It also relies on parents recognizing the value of birth registration, particularly if they cannot afford the cost of a birth certificate at that time.”

A birth certificate, which costs 47 Australian dollars ($35) in Western Australia, can only be obtained if a baby has been registered at birth.

Australia rarely talks publicly about the condition of its roughly 700,000 Indigenous citizens, who rank near the bottom of its 23 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator, or about society’s attitude toward them.

A government report released earlier this year showed that Australia was failing to meet a number of goals aimed at improving the lives of its aboriginal population.

A target to close a 10 year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031 is not on track and the Aboriginal unemployment rate will not be halved by 2018 as previously pledged, the government report said.

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