By : Jaisree N.
Asst. Prof., School of Law, Presidency University
“Birth registration is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence. The child who is not registered at birth is in danger of being denied the right to an official identity, a recognized name”
In India, an estimated 26 million children are born every year of which about 10 million go unregistered.
“The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” Article 7 of the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Birth registration is a permanent and official record of a child’s existence. The child who is not registered at birth is in danger of being denied the right to an official identity, a recognized name and a nationality. UNICEF is concerned about the situation of children who, in legal terms, do not exist. With no document to prove how old they are – or even who they are – they are likely to join the millions facing discrimination and lack of access to basic services such as health and education.
Unregistered children are generally the children of the poor and the excluded. An unregistered child will be a more attractive target for a child trafficker and does not have even the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour, or detention and persecution as an adult. In later life, the unregistered child may be unable to apply for a passport or formal job, open a bank account, and get a driving license or a marriage certificate.
But the importance of registration – or the lack of it – goes beyond the individual. Registration is also a vital tool for a nation’s development because the process of registration means collection of data on vital statistics (number of births & deaths). It is an essential element of national planning for children, since it provides a demographic base. Without registration, for example, it is unlikely that countries can have accurate knowledge of something as crucial as prevalent child mortality rates – a key indicator for child survival strategies. It can also help identify population at risk, compilation of population estimates and projections, maintaining of electoral rolls and maintaining of personal identification card systems, etc.In India, an estimated 26 million children are born every year of which, about 10 million go unregistered.
The current registration level of births in the country is about 58%. The state disparities in registration coverage (range from over 90 percent to under 30 percent). While some states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have registration rates of over 90%, others lag far behind. The low performing states (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) report registration rates as low as 11%. These five states also account for approximately one quarter of all children born every year in India.
The national legal framework for registration is the 1969 Registration of Births and Deaths Act and registration services are decentralized spreading across 28 States and 7 union territories with more than 200,000 registration centers. 98% of these centers are in the rural areas and about 2% are in urban areas. The Registrar General, of India is the central authority for unifying and coordinating the registration work in the country and at the state level, each State has a Chief Registrar of Births and Deaths who has the overall responsibility of coordinating, unifying and supervising the work of registration. The Chief Registrars are required to submit an Annual Report on the Working of the Act along with an Annual Statistical Report to their State Governments and to the Registrar General, India. The local registration centres are managed by Registrars and Sub-Registrar of Births and Deaths who are the grass-root level. One of the biggest challenges in promoting birth and death registration in the country is the low priority accorded to the work of registration. This low priority manifests itself in a number of ways that hamper the smooth functioning of the birth and death registration system, for e.g., very low or no budget allocation, lack of inter-departmental coordination, no regular monitoring and supervision and lack of awareness about the need and importance of registration, etc.
The value of birth registration as a fundamental human right needs to find focus in India. Birth registration is the starting line, and everything possible must be done to give every child the best start in life. Hence there is need for considerable work to be done before every child in the world’s second most populous country can claim the right to a legal identity.