Around 56% children under the age of five have registered but only 39% of them have their certificates
A two-year-old resident of Dhaka, Madiyat Rahee, has taken all the doses of vaccination she needs but she still does not have a birth certificate.
Her mother Rebeka Sultana, who is a school teacher, said she knew about the birth registration and certificate but did not do it as she felt it to be relatively unnecessary.
However, according to the Birth and Death Registration Rules 2018, all children need to be registered for free within 45 days of the birth. If the parents fail to do so, the government has kept a provision to register their child’s birth for a small fee.
The Office of Registrar General for Birth and Death Registration under the Local Government Division (LGD) mentioned in their website that parents would be responsible for the failure to register their children.
However, despite knowing about the obligation of birth registration and certificate, some 90% of the mothers of unregistered children remain inactive to complete the procedures, according to the Bangladesh Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) carried out by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in collaboration with Unicef Bangladesh in 2019.
According to the survey, some 56% children under the age of five have registered but only 39% of them have their certificates. It means some 44% of children have no birth registration.
Among the eight divisions of Bangladesh, Barisal recorded the highest number of registrations (62.2%) while Khulna recorded the lowest (47.6%).
At the end of Unicef’s survey, they anticipated that there are over 10 million children under the age of five in Bangladesh with no birth registration.
Meanwhile, according to the data from the Office of Registrar General for Birth and Death Registration, some 175,984,367 people have completed their birth registration, of them 16,707,700 are children. However, they could not confirm how many children are under the age of five.
Birth registration in Bangladesh
According to the website of the Birth Registration Office, the British colonial rulers first introduced birth registration in Bangladesh in July, 1873.
In 2004, the Birth and Death Registration Act was passed and from that very year the activities of birth registration started afresh.
In 2010, the activities went online and currently the registration can be done both online and in person.
In 2013, after amending the Act, the government established separate Birth and Death Registration Offices under the LGD.
According to the website, the registration can be done at local government offices like 124 regional offices under 12 city corporations, 328 municipality’s offices, 4,571 Union Parishad offices, 15 cantonment board offices, and 55 high commissions of Bangladesh abroad.
Grounds of failure and subsequent problems
Experts identified that the leading cause behind most of the problems is the failure to make people realize the importance of the registration, which seems unnecessary to them.
Child Protection Officer of Unicef Bangladesh Fatema Khyrunnahar said many parents come for birth registration when they need it to get their children admitted to schools. A good portion of the parents come for registration to have their children’s passport as well.
“In 2016, when Bangladesh was said to have a population of more than 160 million, the registration rose over 170 million. This indicates that duplicate or multiple registrations were done,” she added.
The e-report on Birth and Death Registration (2015-2016) also mentioned that the number they are providing is not accurate as they have observed double or multiple registrations.
The child specialist said many re-registrations took place when parents wanted their children to get admission in particular schools.
This inconsistency in numbers are causing problems in formulating policies or making budgets for children’s health or taking them under the social safety net or legal framework.
Professor and Chairman of Department of Population Sciences Dr Mohammad Mainul Islam said that not having the certificate does not mean that one cannot get vaccinated or will be out of the immunization process; therefore, the parents do not feel the need of registration.
Dr Mowla Baksh Chaudhury, program manager (EPI) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), also confirmed that a child does not need to have a birth certificate to avail the vaccines. They generally give vaccines to 3.7 million children aged less than two in a year.
Prof Mainul said, although only 39% of the children under the age of one year have registered or been certified, more than 95% children have got the BCG vaccine. This means that a good coordination between DGHS and the Birth Registration Office will lower the gap between children getting vaccinated and being registered.
Besides, keeping children unregistered helps the parents to manipulate the age of their daughters to prove her an adult. That is another reason behind the increased number of child marriages.
Moreover, it gives an inaccurate scenario of the gross populations of the country which hinders the overall research and guidelines, as well as the law formulation process, he added.
Awareness and inter-govt offices’ coordination is the key
Fatema Khyrunnahar said there is no alternative to making the parents realize what damage they are doing to their children.
The database of the birth registration needs to be updated. Besides, the Cabinet Division has established the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) which needs to step up and gain pace to improve the scenario of birth registration.
Professor Mainul Islam said some sections of the law needs to be amended so that the parents are forced to register their child’s birth.
Meanwhile, Deputy Registrar General of the Birth Registration Office AKM Maksudur Rahman denied to make any comment over the unregistered children although he is tasked with monitoring activities of the registration.
Program Officer of the Birth Registration Office Fahmeeda Shireen told Dhaka Tribune that they are working to increase awareness.
“Besides, there has been communication between DGHS and DGFP (Directorate General of Family Planning) so that a good coordination is established. The Directorate of Primary Education has also been reached in this regard,” she added.
Dr Mowla Baksh Chaudhury of DGHS said a pilot project has already been started and they are working with the Birth Registration Office to build a coordinated database.
“Once the database is established, we are thinking of not allowing anybody without registration. If needed they will first register the child’s birth and then vaccines will be administered,” he added.