6 Reasons Why Girls Must Be Counted

Advocacy , Birth Registration

Imagine if you didn’t exist. No birth certificate, and the government has no record that you were ever born.

For most of us, this is incomprehensible. But for millions of girls around the world, this is reality.

Even though most countries do have birth registration laws, according to UNICEF, 4 out of 10 births worldwide were not registered in 2012. That’s 290 million children living around the world today who are not counted. And this disproportionately affects the lives of adolescent girls in developing countries, deeply limiting their access to life-changing resources and opportunities.

Time and time again we have seen that when girls are empowered, they can change the world. But to have that chance, first they have to be counted.

Need convincing? Here are 6 reasons why girls must be counted:

1. Girls and women make up a big part of our world’s population.

Image 1

Approximately one person in 12 around the world is a girl or a young woman aged 10-24. In developing countries, girls and young women are among the fastest growing segments of the population. It’s impossible to create and maintain a strong economy or healthy communities when a large portion of the population is invisible to the government.

2. When a girl isn’t counted, it makes it difficult for her to enroll in school…

Image 2 - Stuart Ramson
(INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson for UN Foundation)

Before you were able to start going to school, your parents or guardian had to show a birth certificate or an official form of documentation proving how old you were. Sounds simple, but what if there was no record of your birth? When a girl isn’t counted, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for a girl to receive a formal education.

3. And get a job or start her own business…

Jen w machine smiling

Similar to going to school, the first thing any new employer asks for is documentation proving your identity. An adolescent girl in a developing country who isn’t counted has no way to fulfill this requirement. As for starting her own business? A girl can’t get a loan without presenting forms of official documentation, keeping her from achieving financial independence.

4. And vote, see a doctor, or own property.

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Ok, by now you are probably seeing a trend: When a girl isn’t counted, she faces many barriers that keep her from officially participating in and benefitting from the formal economic, legal and political sectors in her country. She cannot vote, stifling her voice and preventing her from participating in elections; and owning property and accessing health services can become increasingly difficult.

5. Lack of documentation can expose girls to dangerous risks.

Girl Up in Jijiga
(Jiro Ose/ UN Foundation)

Birth registrations are not just crucial for a girl’s development, but is also critical in protecting her from potential risks such as forced labor, trafficking and child marriage.

6. Without better data on girls and women, these challenges will continue to exist


More and better data is needed to drive progress for girls around the world – and getting girls counted is the first step to helping us close the gender data gap. Improving birth registration systems will help provide the data needed to guide more effective policies, better leverage investments, and identify areas where progress is lacking.

It’s simple: girls should count.

Right now there is U.S. legislation – the Girls Count Act – that would support programs in developing countries that help improve birth registrations and documentation systems for all children. Through legislation, the U.S. government can play a critical role in helping all girls reach their full potential by making adolescent girls in developing countries a foreign policy priority.

If you believe in a world where all girls deserve to dream, a world where all girls have agency over their own lives, we need your voice – and we need it now.

The Senate recently passed the Girls Count Act (S. 802), but we need the House to pass the bill and get it to the President for signature for this bill to become a law! Take action now: Urge your representative to vote yes on the Girls Count Act!