Girls Count Act Bill Brief

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Approximately one person in 12 around the world is a girl or young woman aged 10–24.  Girls and young women are one of the fastest growing segments of the population in developing countries, and their health and welfare is fundamental to creating and maintaining strong economies and healthy communities.  Yet the lack of official data on girls and women make it difficult to create accurate assessments of access to education, poverty levels and overall census activities. Without this basic information, it is difficult to assess the need for U.S. foreign assistance and domestic social welfare programs.

Many developing countries do not account for the number of girls in their population by issuing birth certificates and other forms of official documentation because they don’t have the capacity to do so.  Others countries don’t because they simply don’t prioritize girls.  This means that as a girl grows up it will be difficult, if not impossible, for her to attend school or get a job.  She will not be able to own her own land or start her own business.  She will not be able to vote.  She will likely be confined to the home and left unpaid – an invisible member of society.

The Facts

Even though most countries do have birth registration laws. The most recent data available shows that 290 million children worldwide do not have birth certificates—in 2012, 40 percent of children were not registered at birth.

  • Birth registrations are crucial for people and societies; people benefit from the legal status of certification and societies benefit from the availability of quality statistics on vital life events.
  • A nationally recognized proof of birth is the key to determining a child’s nationality, place of birth, parentage and age – without which a passport or national ID card are impossible to obtain.
  • Lack of documentation prevents girls and women from officially participating in and benefitting from the formal economic, legal and political sectors in their countries – meaning they may not have the ability to access education, health and social services, and employment later in life.

The Girls Count Act

Counting girls is fundamental to ensuring that the U.S. government’s prioritization of girls and women in U.S. foreign policy is fully realized.

The Girls Count Act is a bill that:

  • Encourages countries to enact laws that ensure girls and boys of all ages are full participants in society, including promoting birth certifications and some type of national identity card to ensure that all citizens, including girls, are counted;
  • Enhances training and capacity-building in developing countries, local nongovernmental organizations, and other civil society organizations to effectively address the needs of birth registries in countries where girls are undercounted;
  • Includes organizations representing children in the design, implementation, and monitoring of programs under the legislation; and
  • Incorporates an understanding of the impact that policies and programs may have on girls into the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs at all levels.

The bill would give Executive Branch agencies such as the State Department and USAID the authority to provide assistance to support counting of girls in developing countries by:

  • Supporting programs that will contribute to improved and sustainable Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems (CRVS) with a focus on birth registration as the first and most important life event to be registered;
  • Promoting programs that build the capacity of developing countries’ national and local legal and policy frameworks to prevent discrimination against girls;
  • Supporting programs to help increase property rights, social security, home ownership, land tenure security and inheritance for women;
  • Assisting key ministries in the governments of developing countries, including health, interior, youth, and education ministries, to ensure that girls from poor households obtain a fair share of and access to social programs.
  • Directing the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator to coordinate their efforts with multilateral organizations, private sector and civil society organizations.