An estimated 135 million children under five years old across Asia and the Pacific have not had their births registered. Not being registered at birth is not synonymous to being stateless, however such registration is often a prerequisite in establishing a child’s legal identity. It usually includes key information, such as the identity of the child’s parents and the date and place of birth which establish if the child has a right to nationality under the law of the State where he or she is born or under the law of other States to which the child has a relevant link . Particularly in the context of migration and displacement, the lack of documentation can undermine nationality rights, whereas birth registration can help realise the child’s right to a nationality and the prevention and reduction of statelessness. Other forms of civil registration such as marriage registration can also help prevent statelessness among children. In some countries, a child can only acquire its parent’s nationality if he or she is born in wedlock. In order to prove this, parents have to provide relevant authorities with a marriage certificate, making administrative registration of marriage of crucial importance. In this context, it is of great importance that in 2014 the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Declaration proclaiming a shared vision of civil registration for all by 2024 (i.e. the recording of all vital events of people in the region including births, deaths, and marriages). This also applies to refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people.
Registering and possessing documents (e.g. birth certificate, identity documents) are often key to proving one’s identity in order to acquire a nationality. However, these processes can also be used as a tool to discriminate against people. For instance, the identity documentation system in Myanmar is colour-coded and contains information on the holder’s ethnicity and religion. Consequently, minority communities are easy to identify and target. It is therefore important to continue to emphasise the importance of international law principles such as non-discrimination and best interests of the child, in the context of civil registration.
Because of the importance of civil registration in the region, the Asia Regional Support Office is developing a civil registration toolkit, in consultation with experts from the Bali Process. The civil registration toolkit will aim to help states in the region to evaluate and improve vital statistics registration. The toolkit aims to include “an assessment methodology and relevant technical and policy guidance based on international standards, recommendations and case studies of good practice.”