What is a birth certificate?
When you were born, the nurse or midwife most likely took prints of your feet. This was not a courtesy to your parents so they could keep a memento of how little you once were. It was a way to register you. Footprints are like fingerprints: no two are alike, which means that you can be identified by those prints. The footprints taken after birth become part of your birth certificate, along with your first and last name, date and time of birth, your gender, the city in which you were born, and the country of which you are a citizen. It also shows the name of your mother and generally your father.
Although a birth certificate is a person’s most important document, almost 230 million children under the age of five have not had their births registered. That means one in three children don’t officially exist! Many people think a birth certificate is just a formal document with little value. The truth is that without being officially registered, a person has no legal rights. Those include family rights like inheriting from relatives, the right to a last name, belonging to a family, or even getting married as grown-up. They also include citizen rights such as nationality, getting a passport, the right to go to school or receive basic health care. Worst of all, not being registered and not being able to prove one’s age denies humans the right to be protected from crime, violence and abuse.
There are different reasons why so many children don’t get registered. One is poverty — such as when a mother can’t afford health care and gives birth at home with no doctor or nurse present. Another reason is location — some families live in remote areas and a trip to the nearest government office is too far away. Some families are refugees and are unable to live in the country of which they are citizens. Other reasons include beliefs, customs, laws or the lack of a functioning government system in place.
The right to be registered is a fundamental right. It is included in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of every Child, and it is the foundation upon which all other Human Rights are to be granted.
Don’t take your rights as a citizen of your country for granted. Be aware of what it means to live in a society that protects its members.