The child shall be registered immediately after birth (Article7 CRC). A clear and simple obligation for States parties and a very important one for children. There are many circumstances in which children need a copy of this registration document (usually a birth certificate) to prove their age, in particular when they want to exercise their rights or have to be protected against violations of their rights. In many countries ongoing campaigns, often supported by UNICEF and NGOs like Plan International, take place to ensure that all children are immediately registered after birth.
However, a simple obligation can generate a lot of discussion as was recently the case in the Netherlands. Parents raised a simple question: Does my stillborn child have the right to be registered in the civil registration of the births of children? The Civil Code of the Netherlands does not provide a clear answer to this question although there is no provision that makes the registration of the birth of a stillborn child impossible. But the practice of the civil registration is that the birth of stillborn children is not registered. The only rule for these children is that a death certificate shall be registered. The rather shocking conclusion: the stillborn child does not exist in the registration of birth but only in the registration of death.
Members of parliament raised questions on this matter which were answered by the Minister of Internal Affairs. The essence of his answer: there is a basic registration of persons which provides general data of persons necessary for the government in the execution of its tasks. Given this function it does not make sense to include data of a stillborn child in this system. But the Minister does not explain why this leads to the conclusion that the registration of the birth of this child and thus a birth certificate is not necessary.
The Minister is missing two important points.
First: the feelings of distress of the parents caused by the birth of their stillborn child are exacerbated by the fact that the civil registration provides them only with a death certificate.
Second: the Minister does not pay any attention to the obligation of the government to ensure that every child must be registered immediately after birth. Neither Article 7 nor the history of its drafting indicates that this obligation only applies to liveborn children. The right expressed in Article 7 applies to the birth of every child. A distinction between liveborn and stillborn children is a violation of the right of the child to non-discrimination. Article 2 CRC: “States parties shall respect and ensure the rights set for in the present Convention (….) irrespective of the child’s (….) birth or other status”.
The fact that the information of the stillborn child will not appear in the basic registration of persons is an administrative matter which can in no way justify the rule or practice of non-registration of a stillborn child in a birth certificate.
The CRC Committee, to the best of my recollection and knowledge, has never dealt with the birth registration of stillborn children in its Concluding Observations. Obviously I am interested in the views of members of the Committee and also in the rules and practice in other countries regarding the birth registration of stillborn children.
Jaap E. Doek, chairperson of the CRC Committee (2001 – 2007)