A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a person. 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.
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. In England, births were initially registered with churches, who maintained registers of births. This practice continued into the 19th century. The compulsory registration of births with the United Kingdom government is a practice that originated at least as far back as 1853. The entire United States did not get a standardized system until 1902.
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 parent(s) 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).
...it's a small paper but it actually establishes who you are and gives access to the rights and the privileges, and the obligations, of citizenship.
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. About 29% of countries don't have available or sufficient data to assess global progress towards the SDG goal of universal coverage. However, from the data that is available, UNICEF estimates that more than a quarter of children under 5 worldwide are unregistered. The lowest levels of birth registration are found in sub-Saharan Africa (43 percent). This phenomenon disproportionately impacts poor households and indigenous populations. Even in many developed countries, it 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; to 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. Although born and raised in their parents' country of habitual residence, they lack formal recognition of their existence.
Initially registering a birth is done by a hospital through a "Birth Registration Statement" or similar, signed by appropriately licensed and authorized health professionals, and provided to the state or territory registry. Home births are permitted, but a statement is required from a registered midwife, doctor or 2 other witnesses other than the parent(s). Unplanned births require in some states that the baby be taken to a hospital within 24 hours. Once registered, a separate application (sometimes it can be done along with the Birth Registration Statement) can be made for a birth certificate, generally at a cost. The person(s) named or the parent(s) can apply for a certificate at any time. Generally, there is no restriction on re-applying for a certificate at a later date, so it could be possible to legally hold multiple original copies.
The Federal government requires that births be also registered through a "Proof of Birth Declaration" similarly signed as above by a doctor or midwife. This ensures the appropriate benefits can be paid, and the child is enrolled for Medicare.
The state or territory issued birth certificate is a secure A4 paper document, generally listing: Full name at birth, sex at birth, parent(s) and occupation(s), older sibling(s), address(es), date and place of birth, name of the registrar, date of registration, date of issue of certificate, a registration number, with the signature of the registrar and seal of the registry printed and or embossed. Most states allow for stillbirths to be issued a birth certificate. Some states issue early pregnancy loss certificates (without legal significance if before 20 weeks). Depending on the state or territory, amendments on the certificate are allowed to correct an entry, add ascendant, recognize same-sex relationship, changing the sex of the holder is possible in all states and territories.
The full birth certificate in Australia is an officially recognized identity document generally in the highest category. The birth certificate assists in establishing citizenship. Shorter and/or commemorative birth certificates are available; however, they are not generally acceptable for identification purposes.
Birth certificates in Australia can be verified online by approved agencies through the Attorney-General's Department Document Verification Service and can be used to validate identity digitally, e.g. online.
In Canada, the issuance of birth certificates is a function of the provinces and territories. In 2008, provinces and territories started rolling out new polymer certificates to new applicants.
Canadian birth certificates may be obtained from the following:
- Alberta – A registry agent authorised by the Province
- British Columbia – British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency
- Manitoba – Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency
- New Brunswick – Service New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador – Service NL
- Northwest Territories – Health Services Administration Office
- Nova Scotia – Access Nova Scotia
- Nunavut – Registrar-General of Vital Statistics
- Ontario – ServiceOntario
- Prince Edward Island – Vital Statistics Registry
- Quebec – Director of Civil Status (Directeur de l'état civil)
- Saskatchewan – eHealth Saskatchewan
- Yukon – Vital Statistics, Government of Yukon
There are three forms of birth certificates issued:
- Certified true copy/photostat – contains all information available on the birth of a person.
- Long-form – contains name, place and date of birth, parental information, date of issue, date of registration, registration number, certificate number, and authorised signature(s).
- Short-form – as with long-form, except for parental information.
Residents of Quebec born elsewhere can have their non-Quebec birth record inserted into Quebec's birth register. Quebec birth certificates issued with regard to a birth, civil union, marriage or death that occurred outside of Quebec are referred to as "semi-authentic" under paragraph 137 of the Civil Code of Québec, until their full authenticity is recognised by a Quebec court. Inserting one's birth record into the Quebec register is a prerequisite for anyone born outside of Quebec to apply for a legal name change in the province. Semi-authentic birth certificates are issued in the long-form only.
Depending on the province, certificates are in English, French or both languages. Birth certificates from Canadian territories are in English and French, as well as Inuktitut in Nunavut (though individual data is in the Roman alphabet only, not in Inuktitut syllabics).
DND 419 birth certificates
In 1963, the Department of National Defence started issuing birth certificates to dependents of Canadian Forces members born overseas. These certificates were never accorded legal status, but served as a convenient substitute for the original record of birth from the country of birth. In November 1979, production of these certificates ceased.
The People's Republic of China issued its first medical birth certificate on 1 January 1996. Persons born prior to that date can obtain a birth certificate from a Chinese notary public by way of presenting their hukou and other supporting documents. The notary then proceeds to issue a notarial birth certificate based on the information contained in the said documentation. This notarial birth certificate is acceptable for immigration purposes.
The fifth-generation medical birth certificate was adopted nationwide on 1 January 2014. Still, China is amongst those countries with no globally comparable data, presenting challenges to researchers who wish to assess global and regional progress towards universal birth registration.
The Czech Republic maintains a registry of vital records, including births, of people, regardless of nationality, or birthplace. Every citizen of the Czech Republic will need to register their birth if born abroad, effectively granting a foreign born person two birth certificates. The Czech Republic will also register foreigners in some cases. The office that registers births is colloquially called 'matrika'.
Civil records in France have been compulsory since the 1539 ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, in which the King Francis I ordered the parishes to record baptisms, marriages and sepultures. Then in 1667 the parishes were asked to issue two registers in two different places in order to avoid the loss of data. Jews and Protestants were allowed to have their own records by Louis XVI in 1787. In 1792, the registers were fully secularized (birth, civil marriage and death replaced baptism, religious marriage and sepulture, plus an official kept the records instead of a priest), and the Code civil did create the compulsory birth certificate in 1804 (in its articles 34, 38, 39 et 57). This document should be completed at one's marriage since 1897, at one's divorce since 1939, at one's death since 1945 and at one's civil union since 2006. A note is added on the certificate for all these events.
In Hong Kong, the system is similar to England and Wales, wherein the government keeps a birth register book, and the birth certificate is actually a certified copy of the birth register book entry .
Currently, the Immigration Department is the official birth registrar. All parents need to register their children's birth within 42 days. Birth certificates issued between 1 July 1997 and 27 April 2008 recorded whether or not the child's Hong Kong permanent resident status was established at birth. Birth certificates issued after the latter date record which provision of the Immigration Ordinance the said status has been established under.
Traditionally births were poorly recorded in India.
For official purposes, other proofs are accepted in India in lieu of the birth certificate, such as matriculation certificates. Facilities are available to produce a birth certificate from a passport.
By law since 1969, registration of births is compulsory as per provisions of Registration of Births & Deaths Act. Birth certificates are issued by the Government of India or the municipality concerned. Specific rules vary by state, region and municipality.
In Delhi, for example, births must be registered within 21 days by the hospital or institution, or by a family member if the birth has taken place at home. After registration, a birth certificate can be obtained by applying to the relevant authority. Certificates can also be issued under special provisions to adopted children, and undocumented orphans. Overseas births can also be registered.
The current legislation governing the registration of births is the 2006 Act No 23 on the Administration of Civil Status (UU No. 23 Tahun 2006 tentang Administrasi Kependudukan), as amended by 2013 Act No 24 on Amendments to 2006 Act No 23.
Births outside Indonesia
Pursuant to Chapter 29 of the Act, Indonesian citizens born overseas must register their births with the local civil registrar using a foreign birth certificate upon returning to Indonesia, and receive a Report of Birth Abroad (Tanda Bukti Laporan Kelahiran). If born in a jurisdiction which does not register the births of non-citizens, they will instead be issued a regular Birth Certificate by the local Indonesian overseas mission.
Births within Indonesia
Within Indonesia, local civil registrars are responsible for issuing birth certificates (akta kelahiran).
The following Staatsbladen (state gazettes), enacted by the Dutch colonial government, were supplanted by the Act:
- 1849 Staatsblad 25 for persons of European descent
- 1917 Staatsblad 130 for persons of Chinese descent
- 1920 Staatsblad 751 for persons of Indigenous descent
- 1923 Staatsblad 75 for persons of Indigenous descent professing the Christian faith
Prior to 1986, persons not born in any of the above groups had to be registered through court order. This changed by a 1986 decree of the Minister of Home Affairs, resulting in a jolt in the number of births being registered. In 1989, a subsequent decree was effected by the Minister, allowing those born between 1986 and 1989 to have their births registered.
- General Birth Certificate (Akta Kelahiran Umum)
- Delayed Birth Certificate (Akta Kelahiran Terlambat)
- Birth Certificate for a Child Born to a Single Mother (Akta Kelahiran Anak Seorang Ibu)
Pursuant to the Act's domicile principle, a birth certificate is issued by the Civil Registry of the parents' home prefecture or city, as determined from their Indonesian identity card. This is not always the same place as the actual prefecture or city of birth of the child.
There is no such thing as a certified copy of the original birth registration form; all Indonesian birth certificates are abstracts in nature and list an individual's nationality, name, place and date of birth, birth order, parents' names and marital status only.
In 2019, Indonesian local civil registrars began to issue birth certificates with QR codes in lieu of the traditional authenticating signature and stamp. Widodo, director of civil registry services for the Bengkulu Civil Registry, is quoted as saying that "this is by decree of the Minister of Home Affairs, and will help simplify things for the general public as they will no longer be required to go through the hassle of getting [birth certificates] legalised."
In Japan, the household registration document (jp: 戸籍, koseki) is generally used in lieu of a birth certificate.
Since a koseki also acts as proof of Japanese citizenship, only Japanese citizens can hold one. Anyone born in Japan, including children born to non-Japanese parents, can obtain a Certificate of Matters Stated In a Written Notification (jp: 出生届記載事項証明書, shussei todoke kisai jiko shomeisho). A Certificate of Matters Stated In a Written Notification may be obtained from the city/ward/town office the birth was reported to, and is the equivalent of a birth certificate. This is to be distinguished from a Certificate of Acceptance of Birth Notification (jp: 出生届受理証明 書, shussei todoke juri shomeisho), which, according to the Australian Embassy at Tokyo, only constitutes a receipt proving that a birth registration has been lodged with a city/ward/town office.
Birth records for children born to non-Japanese parents in Japan are not maintained permanently; usually only for the duration of ten years from the date of lodgement, but this varies from one city/ward/town office to another.
In Malaysia, the National Registration Department (Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara) is responsible for the registration of births, and for issuing birth certificates (sijil kelahiran).
In 2011, the Department started colour-coding birth certificates. Henceforth, citizens at birth would receive a pale-green birth certificate, while those who do not acquire Malaysian citizenship at birth would be given a red birth certificate. Then-director Datin Jariah Mohd Said was reported as saying that "it [would] address the wrong impression among foreign parents that their children automatically become Malaysians by virtue of them having the pale green certificate."
The Department of Internal Affairs is responsible for issuing birth certificates in New Zealand. Certain historical records including historical birth certificates are available online in a searchable format on the Birth, Death and Marriage Historical Records website. The available records are for births recorded at least one hundred years ago.
Russian birth certificates were previously issued in a booklet format, similar to that of internal passports; today, they are issued on numbered and watermarked A4 security paper. They are typically issued in the Russian language only; however, if a birth is recorded in one of the Russian republics with federal subject status, the resulting birth certificate may be bilingual (Russian and the official language of the said republic).
Filling a birth certificate
A Russian birth certificate may either be filled out in type or print. It is then signed and sealed by a qualified officer of the public authority issuing the certificate (a local civil registry or Russian overseas mission). By default, information on the parents' ethnic origins is no longer recorded – however, it may be recorded upon request.
Obtaining a birth certificate
A Russian birth certificate may be applied for by the person named on the certificate if they are of full age, their parents if still vested with parental rights, their guardian(s) and/or caregiver(s). If the certificate is lost, the public authority that issued the original document issues a replacement on application.
Prior to 1991, the Siad Barre government issued birth certificates (Somali: shahaadada dhalashada or warqadda dhalashada) for events occurring in urban areas. Subsequent to the collapse of said government, Somalia ceased to have a functioning birth registration system. As of January 2014, it has been reported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Somalia has once again started issuing birth certificates, primarily for Somali citizens to be able to obtain the new Somali passport. In Mogadishu, this function is fulfilled by the Mayor of Mogadishu.
Somali autonomous regions, such as Jubaland, Puntland, and Somaliland, have separate, functioning birth registration systems for those born within their respective jurisdictions. In Somaliland, birth certificates are routinely issued only to babies born at a hospital. Home births are registered by way of affidavit with the Somaliland Ministry of Religious Affairs at Hargeisa. Most births, however, go unregistered - owing to the nomadic nature of most of the populace.
A Jubaland birth certificate.
A Mogadishu birth certificate.
An old Somaliland Protectorate birth certificate.
Sweden no longer issues birth certificates. Instead, the Swedish Tax Agency will issue a Personbevis (Extract from the Population Register) for individuals born in Sweden. This takes the place of both birth and marriage certificates for international purposes. The Extract contains, inter alia, place and date of birth, parental information, marriage status, and current registered address.
England and Wales
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales started on 1 July 1837. Registration was not compulsory until 1875, following the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1874, which made registration of a birth the responsibility of those present at the birth. When a birth is registered, the details are entered into the register book at the local register office for the district in which the birth took place and is retained permanently in the local register office. A copy of each entry in the birth register is sent to the General Register Office (GRO).
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
Long-form certificates are copies of the original entry in the birth register, giving all the recorded details. Information includes; name, sex, date, and place of birth of the child, father's name, place of birth and occupation, mother's name, place of birth, maiden name, and occupation. Certificates for births before 1911 do not show the mother's maiden name, before 1969 do not show the detail(s) of the parent(s), place of birth and registration, and before 1984 do not show mother's occupation.
Short-form certificates show the child's full name, sex, date, and place of birth. They do not give any detail(s) of the parent(s); they therefore do not prove parentage. Both versions of a certificate can be used in the verification of identity by acting as a support to other information or documentation provided. Where proof of parentage is required, only a full certificate will be accepted.
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. If the birth was registered within the past 50 years, detailed information is required before a certificate will be issued. The General Register Office draws on several registers for the issuance of birth certificates: the Register of Live Births, the Register of Stillbirths, the Abandoned Children Register, the Adopted Children Register, the Parental Order Register, and the Gender Recognition Register (for holders of Gender Recognition Certificates).
The General Register Office also issues birth certificates relating to births on UK-registered aircraft and births of Her Majesty's Armed Forces dependents. For births on UK-flagged vessels, the responsible authority is the Marine section of the Department for Transport.
Outwith England and Wales
In the rest of the British Isles, there are several different birth registration authorities:
- In Scotland, the National Records of Scotland.
- In Northern Ireland, the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI).
- In Guernsey, the Greffe of the Royal Court of Guernsey.
- In Jersey, the Office of the Superintendent Registrar.
- In the Isle of Man, the Civil Registry. The registration of births became mandated in 1878 on the Isle.
Consular birth registration is also available for those who establish entitlement to British nationality at birth overseas. This is especially helpful when the jurisdiction in question does not allow multiple citizenship or the registration of an illegitimate child's birth. Prior to 1983, such registrations were accepted as proof of British nationality alone. Pursuant to a Reform Order by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, new consular birth registrations issued for children born after the 1st January 1983, and certificates for people born before that date re-issued starting the 1st January 2014, are no longer accepted as stand-alone proof of British nationality.
In the U.S., the issuance of birth certificates is a function of the vital statistics agency or equivalent of the state, capital district, territory or former territory of birth. Birth in the U.S. typically confers citizenship by birth (non-citizen nationality in American Samoa), so a U.S. birth certificate doubly serves as evidence of United States citizenship or non-citizen nationality. U.S. birth certificates are therefore commonly provided to the federal government to obtain a U.S. passport.
The U.S. State Department issues a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for children born to U.S. citizens or non-citizen nationals (who are also eligible for citizenship or non-citizen nationality), including births on military bases in foreign territory.
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.
Birth certificates for individuals born in or adopted to the United States
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, as of 2000[update] there were more than 6,000 entities issuing birth certificates. The Inspector General report stated that according to the staff at the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Forensics Document Laboratory the number of legitimate birth certificate versions in use exceeded 14,000.
Short-form birth certificates and acceptance thereof
In the case of applying for a U.S. 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 name of the applicant's parent(s).
The U.S. State Department has paid close attention to abstract certificates from both Texas and California. There have been reports of a high incidence 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.
Souvenir birth certificates
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.
Adoptive birth certificates
When an adoption is finalized, a U.S. jurisdiction typically seals the original birth certificate. In its place, a replacement birth certificate is issued, with the adoptee's new name and adoptive parents listed. Some jurisdictions allow adopted persons unrestricted access to the original birth certificate. Some only make such available upon permission of the biological parent(s) or an approved court petition. Finally, some jurisdictions do not make the original birth certificate available under any circumstances.
U.S. jurisdictions also typically issue a Certificate of Foreign Birth, that serves as documentary evidence of birth of an overseas-born intercountry adoptee and their relationship to their adoptive United States parents; however, these certificates cannot serve as evidence of U.S. citizenship and must be supplemented by another document, such as a USCIS-issued Certificate of Citizenship. In 2018, the Colorado Department of Revenue declined Alisha Ann Haimei Heater's application for a learner's permit, because her Colorado-issued Certificate of Foreign Birth only proved date of birth and not lawful presence.
Consular reports of birth for individuals born overseas
Prior to 1990, the Vital Records Section of the Department's Passport Services office was responsible for certifying American births overseas, and issued form FS-545, formally known as a Certification of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America. In 1990, the Department changed its policy to make clear that a report issued by them is only supplementary to, and does not substitute for a locally-issued birth certificate; the report, however, does serve as prima facie documentary evidence of the acquisition of United States citizenship or non-citizen nationality at birth. The Department contends that the issuance of birth certificates is a function that is expressly reserved to local vital statistics authorities and may not be assumed by a consular officer.
Notwithstanding the Department's position, however, a consular report of birth is often the only government-issued record of birth for certain individuals. For example, those born on a U.S. Armed Forces base in Germany do not have their births registered with the local German registrar, but only with the Department of State. Because they cannot receive a German birth certificate, their CRBA is their de facto birth certificate. Between 1990 and December 2010, the Department issued form DS-1350, formally known as a Certification of Report of Birth of a United States Citizen; and form FS-240, formally known as the Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America. Since January 2011, the Department of State has issued only form FS-240.
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