A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. The term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document certifying the circumstances of the birth or to a certified copy of or representation of the ensuing registration of that birth. Depending on the jurisdiction, a record of birth might or might not contain verification of the event by such as a midwife or doctor.
- 1 History and contemporary times
- 2 Canada
- 3 England and Wales
- 4 United States
- 5 See also
- 6 References
History and contemporary times
The documentation of births is a practice widely held throughout human civilization, especially in China, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia. The original purpose of vital statistics was for tax purposes and for the determination of available military manpower. Births were initially registered with churches, who maintained registers of births. This practice continued into the 19th century. The compulsory registration of births with governmental agencies is a practice that originated in the United Kingdom in 1853.
Most countries have statutes and laws that regulate the registration of births. In all countries, it is the responsibility of the mother's physician, midwife, hospital administrator, or the parents of the child to see that the birth is properly registered with the appropriate government agency.
The actual record of birth is stored with a government agency. That agency will issue certified copies or representations of the original birth record upon request, which can be used to apply for government benefits, such as passports. The certification is signed and/or sealed by the registrar or other custodian of birth records, who is commissioned by the government.
The right of every child to a name and nationality, and the responsibility of national governments to achieve this are contained in Articles 7 and 8 in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: "The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality..." (CRC Article 7) and "States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations..." (CRC Article 8).
Despite 191 countries ratifying the Convention, the births of millions of children worldwide go unregistered. By their very nature, data concerning unregistered children are approximate; however, it was estimated in 2008 that 51 million babies – more than two fifths of those born worldwide – were not registered at birth. This phenomenon disproportionately impacts indigenous populations and even in many developed countries, contributes to difficulties in fully accessing civic rights.
Birth registration opens the door to rights to children and adults which many other human beings take for granted: to prove their age; to prove their nationality; to receive healthcare; to go to school; to take exams; to be adopted; to protection from under-age military service or conscription; to marry; open a bank account; to hold a driving licence; to obtain a passport; to inherit money or property; and to vote or stand for elected office.
There are many reasons why births go unregistered, including social and cultural beliefs and attitudes; alternative documents and naming ceremonies; remote areas, poor infrastructure; economic barriers; lack of office staff, equipment and training; legal and political restrictions; fear of discrimination and persecution; war, conflict and unrest or simply the fact that there is no system in place.
Retrospective registration may be necessary where there is a backlog of children whose births have gone unregistered. In Senegal, the government is facilitating retrospective registration through free local court hearings and the number of unregistered children has fallen considerably as a result. In Sierra Leone, the government gave the National Office of Births and Deaths special permission to issue birth certificates to children over seven. In Bolivia, there was a successful three-year amnesty for the free registration of young people aged between 12 and 18.
Statelessness, or the lack of effective nationality, impacts the daily lives of some 11-12 million people around the world. Perhaps those who suffer most are stateless infants, children, and youth. Though born and raised in their parents’ country of habitual residence, they lack formal recognition of their existence.
In Canada, the issuance of birth certificates is a function of the provinces or territories.
Agencies or various ministers are in charge of issuing birth certificates:
- Alberta - Department of Vital Statistics (Service Alberta)
- British Columbia - Vital Statistics Agency (Ministry of Health)
- Manitoba - Vital Statistics Agency (Ministry of Healthy Living, Seniors and Consumer Affairs/Consumer and Corporate Affairs)
- New Brunswick - Vital Statistics (Service New Brunswick)
- Newfoundland and Labrador - Vital Statistics Government Services (Service NL)
- Northwest Territories - Vital Statistics (Department of Health and Social Services - Health Services Administration Division)
- Nova Scotia - Registrar General Dvision of Vital Statistics (Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations)
- Nunavut - Registrar General of Vital Statistics (Nunavut Health and Social Services)
- Ontario - Office of Registrar General-Service Ontario (Ministry of Government Services)
- Prince Edward Island - Vital Statistics (Health and Social Services)
- Quebec - Director of Civil State (Minister of Justice)
- Saskatchewan - Vital Statistics-Information Service Corporation (Department of Health)
- Yukon - Vital Statistics (Ministry of Health and Social Services - Health Services)
Types of certified copies issued
There are two types of birth certificates issued:
- Long form - legal size or two page form with details of the person, their parents', place of birth, certification by the parents, signature and stamp of the issuing agency or department. Recent forms are in English and French.
- Short form or card - provides name, birth date, place of birth, date of registration, date of issue, registration number, certificate number, signature of registrar general
England and Wales
In England and Wales, the description "birth certificate" is commonly used to describe a copy of the relevant entry in a register of births.
The national registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales started in 1837; but at first there was no penalty for failing to register a birth. In the system, all births are recorded in "registers", which have columns for various particulars of the birth, usually including the name of the child, sex, the names of the parents, the date of the birth, the location of the birth, and sometimes additional information such as the name of the attending physician, the race of the child, or the occupation of the parents. These birth registers are maintained by some government agency that will issue certified copies or representations of the entry upon request.
Pre-1837 birth and baptism records
Before the government's registration system was created, evidence of births and/or baptisms (and also marriages and death or burials) was dependent on the events being recorded in the records of the Church of England or in those of other various churches – not all of which maintained such records or all types of those records. Copies of such records are not issued by the General Register Office; but can be obtained from these churches, or from the local or national archive, which usually now keeps the records in original or copy form.
Types of certified copies issued in England and Wales
Each "full" birth certificate issued is actually a certified copy of an entry from the register of births, either that held by the local Register office or at the General Register Office for England and Wales, Southport; it does not certify the birth but the information given in the register entry thus being legally conclusive evidence of the event unless proved otherwise. The full certificate is a copy of the entry, showing the child's surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, place of birth, the parent(s) name(s), their address and occupations at the time of registration. Modern certified copies issued by the General Register Office will usually be photocopies of the page or relevant part of a page in the GRO's registers but will be written or typed copies if the original is poor or e.g. contains intrusions from adjacent records or annotations which do not form part of the prescribed record.
Full extracts will usually be required for most purposes involving establishment of a person's identity; any extract by itself is no longer generally accepted as evidence of identity and a specific warning that an extract is not issued as evidence of identity has been printed on such documents since the 1980s.
In addition, one can obtain a "short" birth certificate, which is an abstract of the original entry and only includes the surname, forename(s), date of birth, sex, registration district and sub-district in which the birth took place. No fee is chargeable for this when issued at the time of registration and these are commonly found among personal documents inherited from older relatives whose parents might have had no practical need for a full extract; short extracts issued after the original registration was made are subject to a prescribed fee. These extracts nowadays have little practical usability due to the reduced information shown, in the past often being used to avoid revealing the marital status of the parents or as a cheaper written statement of somebody's birth date and place when a recipient did not need the amount of corrobarative detail which is now often required due to e.g. occurrences of identity theft.
The original registrations are required by law to be issued in the form of certified copies to any person who identifies an index entry and pays the prescribed fee. They can be ordered by registered users from the General Register Office Certificate Ordering Service or by postal or telephone ordering from the General Register Office or by post or in person from local registrars.
The federal and state governments have traditionally cooperated to some extent to improve vital statistics. From 1900 to 1946 the U.S. Census Bureau designed standard birth certificates, collected vital statistics on a national basis, and generally sought to improve the accuracy of vital statistics. In 1946 that responsibility was passed to the U.S. Public Health Service. Unlike the British system of recording all births in "registers", the states file an individual document for each and every birth.
The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics creates standard forms that are recommended for use by the individual states to document births. However, states are free to create their own forms. As a result, neither the appearance nor the information content of birth certificate forms is uniform across states. These forms are completed by the attendant at birth or a hospital administrator, which are then forwarded to a local or state registrar, who stores the record and issues certified copies upon request.
Types of certified copies issued
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, as of 2000 there were more than 6,000 entities issuing birth certificates. The Inspector General report states that according to staff at the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Forensics Document Laboratory the number of legitimate birth certificate versions in use exceeded 14,000.
Acceptance of short forms
In the case of applying for a US passport, not all legitimate government-issued birth certificates are acceptable:
A certified birth certificate has a registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within 1 year of your birth. Please note, some short (abstract) versions of birth certificates may not be acceptable for passport purposes.
Beginning April 1, 2011, all birth certificates must also include the full names of the applicant's parent(s).
The US State Department has paid close attention to abstract certificates from both Texas and California. There have been reports of a high instance of midwife registration fraud along the border region between Texas and Mexico, and the Texas abstract certificate form does not list the name or occupation of the attendant. The California Abstract of Birth did not include an embossed seal, was no longer considered a secure document, and have not been issued in California since 2001.
Q. I have a "Certified Abstract" that I obtained in the 1990s. I am now being told it is not sufficient (e.g. passports), and I need to get a full embossed certificate. What should I do?
A. California law allowed for the issuance of abstracts for a period. Due to the increase of fraud, outside agencies became stricter in the forms of vital records they would accept, so State law was changed so abstracts are no longer issued. Unfortunately, that means you will probably need to replace any abstracts with a newer full certified copy. If you have an abstract issued from our office, please contact us to discuss replacement.
Most hospitals in the U.S. issue a souvenir birth certificate which may include the footprints of the newborn. However, these birth certificates are not legally accepted as proof of age or citizenship, and are frequently rejected by the Bureau of Consular Affairs during passport applications. Many Americans believe the souvenir records to be their official birth certificates, when in reality they hold little legal value.
Birth certificates in cases of adoptions
In the United States, when an adoption is finalized, the government seals the original birth certificate and will issue a replacement birth certificate substituting the individual's birth name with the name selected by the adoptive parents, and replacing the birth parents' names with the adoptive parents. In those cases, adopted individuals are not granted access to their own original birth certificates upon request. Laws vary depending on the state where the birth was originally registered and the adoption was finalized. Some states allow adopted people unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates, while in others the certificate is available only if the biological parents have given their permission or a petition has been granted by the court of jurisdiction. Other jurisdictions do not allow adopted people access to their own original birth certificates under any circumstances.
- Birth registration in Ancient Rome
- Closed adoption
- Death certificate
- Identity card
- Marriage license
- Vital record
- Vital Records Registration Handbook (Jacksonville, FL: Florida Office of Vital Statistics, 2007) 7.
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- Report of the panel to evaluate the standard U.S. certificates (Division of Vital Statistics National—Center for Health Statistics, April 2000, addenda November 2001), 60.
- Report of the panel to evaluate the standard U.S. certificates (Division of Vital Statistics National—Center for Health Statistics, April 2000, addenda November 2001).
- 2003 Revisions of the U.S. Standard Certificates (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last updated 27 April 2011).
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- Bob Rankin, "Passports Online" on Ask Bob Rankin, 2006.
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