Birth registration is the process by which a child’s birth is recorded in the civil register by the applicable government authority. It provides the first legal recognition of the child and is generally required for the child to obtain a birth certificate. Whilst, in some cases, this is issued to the child at the same time as registration, in others, a separate application must be made. It is important that the registered child receives a birth certificate, since it is this that provides permanent, official and visible evidence of a state’s legal recognition of his or her existence as a member of society.
Every child should be registered at birth. Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that, “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name [and] the right to acquire a nationality”.
Not only is the state’s obligation to register the child incorporated in the CRC but it is also contained in other human rights conventions and texts. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 15) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 24). The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (article 29) goes one step further by providing for a specific right to registration itself.
Birth registration is a key event in a child’s life. This is because of its importance in providing legal proof of the identity of the child. Unregistered children find it difficult to access their human rights. These include the right to a name and nationality, the right to be free from all forms of exploitation, the right to protection in the juvenile justice system, the right to education and the right to health care
When unregistered children grow up they may also be denied the enjoyment of collective privileges that are open to them as equal members of society. These consist of economic privileges, like the opportunity to work, to open a bank account, to obtain credit and to inherit; social privileges including marriage, welfare benefits, social security and a pension; and political privileges such as the right to vote and otherwise participate in civil and political affairs.
The importance of birth registration also goes beyond the individual child. It is a critical element of civil registration systems which provide information on vital events including live birth, death and foetal death.
Without the information that can be provided through civil registration and other tools such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), census data only provides a ten-yearly statistical snapshot of a country and will prevent authorities from spotting trends at much shorter intervals, such as yearly, quarterly or even monthly.
Birth registration data, when correctly collected, can therefore play an important role in the planning of a country’s economic and social development. This is because disaggregated population data can help identify geographic, social, economic and gender disparities within national boundaries. This, in turn, will improve a state’s ability to plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and report on the impact of its social and economic policies. It will also ensure that resources are allocated to where they are really needed within different geographical areas or different groups in society.