04/04/2014 04:49 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2014

Why Every Girl Should (Literally) Count

Can you imagine your life without a birth certificate? Could you go to school? Could you get a job? Could you legally drive a car? Without the basic documentation that a birth certificate provides, the answer to all these questions is a resounding no.

Yet life without a birth certificate is a reality for millions of people around the world. How do I know this? Because my own grandmother and great-grandmother did not receive birth certificates. As women of color in the American South, pre-Civil Rights Act, they were two of many who were not officially counted. I saw the difficulties that my grandmother and great-grandmother faced living without birth certificates, which strengthened my conviction that all girls must be counted.

Every year millions of children around the world are not registered at birth. And considering that approximately one person out of 12 worldwide is a girl or young woman between the ages of 10 and 24, the lack of documentation for one of the fastest-growing segments of the population in developing countries is truly a global issue.

The importance of documentation at birth cannot be overestimated: Without a birth certificate, 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. She becomes an invisible member of society.

The good news is that the Girls Count Act of 2013 aims to tackle the issue head-on. The Girls Count Act encourages countries to enact laws that ensure girls and boys of all ages are full participants in society, including promoting birth certifications or some type of national identity card. It also urges the U.S. government to work with partners like the United Nations, which can help countries facilitate data collection and even establish identification laws to ensure girls are active participants in the social, economic, legal, and political sectors of their societies.

Millions of girls across the world today are being fundamentally overlooked in their communities because they are denied the opportunity to be registered at birth. Now is the time to urge Congress to support the Girls Count Act of 2013. Because like my grandmother and great-grandmother, every girl deserves to be counted.