Nargis, a Tajik woman, had to bury her dream of becoming a teacher when she was married off shortly after finishing high school. But her daughters were destined to have it even harder. The family had no means to get birth certificates for them, making Nargis’ heart sink at the thought that they wouldn’t even be able to attend school, let alone strive for professional level work.
In working around the issue of registration in Tajikistan, I realize the sad reality is that Nargis’s case is not unique. Every year in Tajikistan, parents fail to obtain birth certificates for their children, for various reasons. The main barrier is financial, but people also believe the procedures of receiving a birth certificate is lengthy and time consuming. And if not obtained with the first year after birth, the fees start to accumulate, making it all the more difficult to afford.
Why is registration so important?
Birth registration is an undervalued but critical first step towards safeguarding lifelong protection and access to rights. It gives people access to basic services such as education or health care. Those without certificates risk becoming invisible to the state, at risk of exclusion and exploitation. Many may have difficulties accessing all types of services.
Civil registration certificates establish family ties and track major events of an individual’s life, from birth to marriage and death, serving as crucial evidence in case of legal protection.
But in Tajikistan, for instance, an estimated 50,000 people per year don’t get the necessary birth registration within the first year. 16 and 18 percent of boys and girls, respectively, under 2 years of age still don’t have birth certificates.
This is a big issue especially in remote areas of the country. Poverty, limited mobility and little knowledge about the importance of timely birth registration pose the main challenges. And without a birth certificate, it’s difficult to (legally) marry, have a right to property, get documents such as passports, vote or be legally employed.
In fact, according to our study, in 33 percent of households at least one civil registration document is missing.
Here in Tajikistan, women and girls still face many social, cultural, financial and legal barriers that can keep them from being registered, such as the requirement of a husband’s presence. These same barriers make it all the more important for them to secure their rights. Proof of age and identity ensures that women, girls and other vulnerable groups can access social services, seek employment, open bank accounts, access credit and loans, own businesses and exercise their right to vote.
And the most vulnerable groups when it comes to civil registration are the children of so-called “abandoned wives” of migrant workers and women raising children alone, disabled women or children with disabilities.
However, there is good news. We at UNDP have been working with the Government of Tajikistan to make the registration process easier, from both the efficiency and financial sides.
A new electronic system that will replace the old paper-based one was introduced last April, designed to reduce the time required to issue a certificate and allow for easier access in remote areas.
And since July, birth registration in Tajikistan is finally free of charge during the first three months after a child’s birth, with the adoption of a legal amendment by the parliament.
These two elements – free birth registration and the transition to electronic system – are huge steps in reforming the civil registration system in the country.
Birth certificates can now be obtained in no more than half a day, after submission of the required documents. We are already noticing the effect of this new regulation: more people are coming to get birth certificates.
Nargis’ eagerness to find a solution led her to an expert from her district’s civil registration office, who helped her apply for financial support from the state to cover the accumulating penalty fees for late registration.
There is still much left to be done to ensure that young families are properly informed about the new possibilities. We are continuing public awareness campaigns to educate the communities.
We’re also working with the government to expand “one-stop shops” in areas where there’s less access to civil services, and training registration office staff to use the new electronic systems and provide more gender-sensitive services.
But stories like Nargis’s can now be prevented from the beginning, and we look forward to the day where every child, and therefore adult is registered.