An individual’s identity is determined from the time they are born. Identity and the citizenship rights which come with it enable an individual to function in society and access the resources entitled to them by the state.
Identity is more than just gender, caste or religion.
It is widely accepted that birth registration is the first step towards establishing an individual’s citizenship, an identity that the state recognises. recognises. Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC) provides that, “The child shall be registered immediately after birth…”
A birth certificate is an official record and provides evidence of a child’s name, place of birth, relationship with their parents and with the state.
In India, birth registration is decentralised and regulated by the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (RBD Act).
According to the RBD Act, a birth should be registered within 21 days. If parents fail to register the birth within 21 days, they can still pay a nominal fee and register the birth within one year. If registration is delayed by more than a year, then Section 13 of the RBD Act provides for a Magistrate to pass an order to record the birth.
A timely birth registration helps in many ways. Like availing a school admission, obtaining a ration card, registering a marriage, submitting a conclusive proof of birth, getting benefits under social welfare schemes and much more.
Birth registration also helps the state and central governments and census bodies in many ways like maintaining the national population register, calculating the birth and death rates and, assessing the health status of the country to inform wider policy implications.
Despite all these benefits, statistics reveal that birth registration in India stood at 85.5% in 2013. Only 17 out of 29 states in India have been able to achieve 100% birth registration.
Indians from marginalised and economically disadvantaged sections are often the ones to be most severely impacted by these factors and constitute a big chunk of those whose births do not get registered.
In November 2016, iProbono began community-based interventions to drive retrospective birth registrations in India, with an aim to get births registered for children under 14 without birth certificates. This project emerged from a need expressed by front-line Delhi based organisations like “Chetna” and the “Hope Project” and was conducted in collaboration with key stakeholders including civil society organisations, government officials and lawyers.
Through this work, iProbono aims to ensure the retrospective birth registration of a sample population of children, and at the same time, demystify and streamline the birth registration process by clarifying the law for the public at large.
As part of our field work, we engaged with the children at a Delhi shelter home. We learned that children living there did not have birth certificates, despite a central government circular dated July 3, 2015, ensuring birth certificates for orphaned children. As a result, they were unable to avail scholarships or benefits of other government schemes.
iProbono raised an urgent inquiry with the Divisional Commissioner of the Revenue Department and, as a result of our intervention, a circular (circular number: 2191- 2201) was issued on June 12, 2017, in compliance with the 2015 notification that will enable several orphaned children to obtain birth certificates.
Obtaining a birth certificate is not only a first step towards citizenship rights, it is a process endorsed both nationally and internationally. But factors like lack of awareness, the absence of a thorough registration system, logistical challenges and untrained, uncooperative registration staff come in the way of universal registration.
While the Government of India is emphasising on the need for all citizens to be enrolled in the Aadhaar program, birth registration seems to have been lost in the shuffle and has ended up low on the priority list.
Through our “Identity Rights” program and with the support of community-based organisations, iProbono hopes to bring more attention to this important initiative and help more Indians from disadvantaged sections access their rights.