iProbono’s work on retrospective birth registration is a key part of our Identity Rights project and wider work on public access to justice and knowledge of the law. Most recently, our efforts culminated in a government circular to ensure the retrospective birth registration of children living in shelter homes. This case study 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 he/she is born. Identity is more than just gender, caste or religion, citizenship rights enable the individual to function in society and access the resources entitled to him/her by the state. It is widely accepted that birth registration is the first step towards establishing an individual’s citizenship, an identity that the state recognizes. 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 his/her parents and with the state.

In India birth registration is decentralized 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 section 13 of the RBD Act provides for a Magistrate to pass an order to record the birth after one year.

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.[1]

Summarising the importance of birth registration

  1. Provides state recognised evidence of a child’s birth.
  2. Helps to avail school admission, ration card, registration as a voter, employment, marriage registration; benefits under social welfare schemes.
  3. Provides conclusive proof of age.
  4. Ensures entry in national population register.
  5. Facilitates calculation of birth, death and population rate.
  6. Helps assess the health status of the country and inform wider policy implications.

Obtaining a birth certificate is not only a first step towards citizenship rights, it is a process endorsed both nationally and internationally. So why aren’t people obtaining birth certificates for their children:

  1. Lack of awareness about birth registration.
  2. It is not considered a child’s right which in turn provides access to education, healthcare, adulthood and employment.
  3. Lack of infrastructure or political motivation to improve the system.
  4. Gender bias in an India cultural context limits the number of girl children registered.
  5. Migrant populations often do not have adequate documents to apply for a birth certificate.
  6. Pan Card, AADHAAR Card, election card and ration card are considered a substitute to a birth certificate.
  7. Home based deliveries leave the responsibility of birth registration to family members.
  8. Vulnerable populations are often unable to undertake the registration process.

iProbono’s  Intervention

As iProbono’s first community based intervention, this project emerged from a need expressed by front-line organisations including Chetna and the Hope Project and conducted in collaboration with key stakeholders including civil society organisations, government officials and lawyers.. Thorough this work iProbono aims to: ensure the retrospective birth registration of a sample population of children and at same time de-mystify 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 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 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 raised an urgent enquiry with the Divisional Commissioner of the Revenue Department who took a keen interest in  the matter. As a result of our intervention, 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.

[1] ‘Working with the right numbers’ Priyanka Chaturvedi, 11 December 2016, The Hindu online (accessed on 28 June 2017).

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