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JUN 2017

Why is Birth Registration Important?

iProbono’s work on retrospective birth registration is a key part of our Identity Right project and wider work on access to justice. Our recent intervention resulted in a government circular to ensure the retrospective birth registration of children living in shelter homes. This article briefly explains why birth registration is important in India, legislative provision and key obstacles faced by individuals in the process of obtaining a birth certificate.

An individual’s identity is determined from the time she is born. Identity is more than just gender, caste or religion. Citizenship enables the individual to function in society and access the resources entitled to her by the State. Birth registration is the first step towards establishing an individual’s citizenship, an identity that the State recognizes. A birth certificate is an official record and provides evidence of a child’s name, place of birth, relationship with her parents and with the State.

In India, birth registration is decentralized and regulated by the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1969. According to the Act, a birth should be registered within 21 days. If parents fail to register the birth within this time, they can still pay a nominal fee and register the birth within one year. If registration is delayed by more than a year section 13 of the Act requires a Magistrate to pass an order to record the birth after one year. Statistics vary according to the source, but UNICEF estimates that nearly one in three unregistered children globally reside in India, with 71 million children under the age of five not having an official record of their birth.

What does birth registration enable?

- It provides the State with recognised evidence of a child’s birth
- Enables school admission, a ration card, registration as a voter, employment, marriage registration; benefits under social welfare schemes
- Provides conclusive proof of age
- Facilitates calculation of birth, death and population rate
- Helps assess the health status of the country and inform wider policy implications.
So why aren’t people obtaining birth certificates for their children?

- Lack of awareness about birth registration -- it is not considered a fundamental right and it is not linked to access to education, healthcare, employment, etc.
- Home based deliveries leave the responsibility of birth registration to family members.
- Migrant populations often do not have adequate documents to apply for a birth certificate.
- Gender bias in an India cultural context limits the number of girl children registered.
- Despite being contested, the Pan Card, AADHAAR Card, election card and ration card are considered a substitute.
- Lack of infrastructure or political motivation to improve the system.
Our Intervention
As a community based intervention, this project emerged from a need expressed by front-line organisations and conducted in collaboration with key stakeholders including NGOs, government officials and lawyers. Through this work we aim to: ensure the retrospective birth registration of a sample population of children and at same time demystify and streamline the birth registration process.

As part of our fieldwork we engaged with the children at Aman Biradari shelter homes. The homes cater for abandoned and orphaned children providing them with shelter and education. Deepti, a Program Officer at Aman Biradari informed us that children living at their homes did not have birth certificates. They were therefore unable to avail of scholarships or benefits of other government schemes. This was despite a central government circular dated 3 July 2015 ensuring birth certificates for orphaned children. iProbono undertook advocacy at local government level and with the Divisional Commissioner of the Revenue Department. As a result, a circular was issued on 12 June 2017 in compliance with the 2015 notification that will enable at least 400 orphaned children to obtain birth certificates.

The article was written by Johanna Lokhande, iProbono’s Program Manager.