In some countries, birth registration is taken for granted as the norm following childbirth. But in too many others, it is a critical step missing to establish a child’s legal proof of identity. Without it, children are invisible to their governments, meaning they could miss out on their rights being protected and upheld, as well as essential services like health care and education. The births of around one quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide have never been recorded. These children’s lives matter, but they cannot be protected if governments don’t even know they exist.
Birth registration is the process of recording a child’s birth. It is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence, and provides legal recognition of that child’s identity. At a minimum, it establishes a legal record of where the child was born and who his or her parents are. Birth registration is required for a child to get a birth certificate – his or her first legal proof of identity.Not only is birth registration a fundamental human right, it also helps ensure that children’s other rights are upheld – like the rights to protection from violence, and essential social services like health care and justice. The information collected from birth registration records helps governments decide where and how to spend money, and what areas to focus on for development programmes, such as education and immunization.
Broadly speaking, birth registration is the process of officially logging a birth with a government authority, and a birth certificate is the paper issued by the state to the parent or caregiver as a result of this process. A birth certificate proves that registration has occurred. Birth registration and birth certificates ideally go hand in hand. However, because the processes for issuing birth certificates can vary depending on location, a child might be registered but never receive a birth certificate.
The importance of birth registration is not immediately evident to everyone. In industrialized countries it is viewed as a formality that parents have to fulfill following the birth of their child, with little thought given to the full weight of this step, and even less to the adverse effects of the absence of registration on millions of the world’s children throughout their lives.Birth registration is no mere administrative measure. It is a passport to citizenship for the registered child, and it incorporates vital data for national statistics to guide governments’ formulation of their development policies, e.g. in the fields of health, education and social services. In some countries, access to health services may not be possible without any proof of a legal identity, and while unregistered children can usually enroll in primary schools, without it in most countries they may find themselves barred later from sitting for national school tests or being admitted to universities.
The absence of a legal identity is also an impediment to marriage, property ownership, inheritance, travel abroad necessitating a passport, or even obtaining a driving license – although, depending on the country, such problems can often be solved through affidavits or other methods which can be costly as well as time consuming. Responsibility for civil registration lies squarely with governments and their national structures and services, while the birth registration process relies also on other actors such as hospitals, health and community centers, midwives and traditional birth attendants. Social workers can play an important role in advocating and facilitating birth registration and establishing links with registration authorities at various levels. Such actions are likely to have a multiplier effect, such as empowering parents to deal with local and other authorities, encouraging them to visit health centers with their children and to send their children to school, even if neither parent is literate.While birth registration is a national policy and a societal matter, it is also inextricably linked to child rights.
In India under the Civil Registration System (CRS), the registration of births is mandatory. The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (RBD Act) makes the registration of birth, death and stillbirth compulsory across the country. This Act provides for:
—Uniform law across India on the registration of births and deaths
—Compulsory registration of all births and deaths
—Implementation of the Act is the responsibility of the state
—Rules framed by the states are based on a set of rules provided by the Registrar General, India.
The birth has to be registered with the concerned local authority, which issues the certificate. For instance in Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation or the Delhi Cantonment Board would issue the birth certificate. In the urban areas, Municipal Corporation or Municipal Council issues the certificate. In rural areas the Tehsildar or the Gram Panchayat Office issues it.
Procedure for obtaining a birth certificate within India and its outside :
According to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act of 1969, the “normal period” for applying for a birth certificate is within 21 days of a child being born. The birth has to be registered with the local authorities concerned, after which a birth certificate is issued.
For instance, in Delhi, the “local authorities concerned” would be the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation or the Delhi Cantonment Board. In the state of Assam, the authority is the Joint Director, Health Services, of any district.
Under the Delayed Registration provisions prescribed under Section 13 of the Act, births can be registered after the expiration of the normal period. Within the 21-day period, no fee is charged. If a birth is registered after 21 days but within a month, a late fee is charged.
Beyond 30 days but within a year, a birth is registered with the written permission of the prescribed authority and on payment of a fee. Along with this, an affidavit made by a notary or an authorised officer of the state government needs to be produced.
Beyond one year, a birth can be registered only on an order made by the magistrate of the first class or a Presidency Magistrate after the correctness of the birth has been verified.
Birth certificates can also be issued without entering the name of the child, in which case the name can be entered without charge within 12 months and for a period of up to 15 years on payment of a late fee.
For children born outside India, their birth is registered under the provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and Citizens (Registration at Indian consulates) Rules, 1956 at the Indian Missions. However, if the parents of the child return to India to settle, the birth can be registered within 60 days from the date of arrival of the child to India, after which the delayed registration provisions are applicable.
Documents required : Some of the documents required to get a birth certificate include an application made on a plain paper, proof of birth of the person whom the certificate is being applied for, an affidavit that specifies the name, place, date and time of birth, copy of ration card and a school leaving certificate, if any, that shows the date of birth. In the absence of a school leaving certificate, police verification is required.
Means of Improving birth registration rates : Legal identity, including birth registration, is a human right. For every child to fulfil this right, governments must improve and strengthen civil registration systems.Improving birth registration rates can be done in a number of ways, including eliminating registration fees and late fees, or giving cash grants to families who register their children. Increasing the number of trained registrars, and/or sending them to remote areas in mobile registration units can also help governments reach more vulnerable populations. Technology offers a promising solution as well. The Governments of Pakistan and Tanzania have introduced smartphone apps for birth registration, which allow registrars to digitally collect and upload birth registration data to a protected, centralized system, in real-time.Ultimately, we need to make birth registration the new normal in communities where it is not regularly practiced. This means advocating for governments to revise their laws and policies, and working with communities to shift attitudes and behaviours – showing the value and benefits of birth registration to create a demand for it.
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