Free birth registration and why it matters. <br>Civil Registration Reform in Tajikistan

November 26, 2019
Illustrative photo. As of July 2019, birth registration is free of charge within three months after birth.

In July 2019 legal amendments to the civil registration system were adopted to take the financial burden of birth registration off families and to ensure that children enjoy full rights from the first days.

Nargis, a woman from Chorteppa jamoat, Rudaki district, Tajikistan, had to bury her dream of becoming a teacher as she was married off shortly after finishing high school. It saddened her to think that her daughters were destined to have it even harder. The family had no means to receive birth certificates for the girls, making Nargis cringe at the thought that they wouldn’t be able even to attend school, let alone strive for professional education.

What is new: birth registration now free of charge

Luckily, her eagerness to find a solution kept her searching for consultations and an expert from the Rudaki district civil registration office helped her apply for state support.

Nargis’s case is not unique. Every year, parents fail to obtain birth certificates for their children in a timely manner for various reasons, the financial one being cited most often as the main barrier.

The recent adoption of legal amendments by the parliament therefore is an important step in reforming the civil registration system in Tajikistan: Since the 19th of July 2019 birth registration is finally free of charge during the first 3 month after the birth of a child.

 “It is a great incentive for people, especially poor and marginalized, to register their newborns and to ensure their citizen rights – and to do so on time,” UNDP Resident Representative in Tajikistan Dr. Pratibha Mehta said at High-Level Conference on Significance of Civil Registration System Reform held in Dushanbe in August 2019.

The undervalued importance of birth registration

A birth certificate allows you to graduate from school. In many cases this is the main incentive to register for it. This girl from Panj district received her birth certificate during UNICEFs Children Fair in November 2019.

Birth registration is a critical first step towards safeguarding lifelong protection and access to rights. In Tajikistan an estimate of 50.000 people per year don’t get the necessary birth registration on time.  Especially in remote areas of Tajikistan, late birth registration is a big issue. Poverty, limited mobility and little knowledge about the importance of timely birth registration remain the main challenges.  Different advantages are linked to birth certificates; therefore, it is important to make sure that people register on time. Birth registration gives people access to basic services such as education, health care or nursing facilities. People who fail to register for birth certificates, risk to become invisible for the state. Children and adults without these certificates are at risk of exclusion and exploitation and may have difficulties accessing services of all kind. Civil registration certificates in general establish family ties and track major events of an individual’s life, from live birth to marriage and death, serving as crucial evidence in case of legal protection.

Who is concerned & what are the problems?

In Tajikistan, women and girls still face many social, cultural, financial, and legal barriers to experience the full benefits and protections of civil registration. The proof of age and identity ensure 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.

Among the most vulnerable groups in the context of access to civil registration services, are the so called “abandoned wives” of migrant workers, women raising children alone, disabled women or children with disabilities. Approximately one in three labour migrants never returns to their families. This puts their wives in an especially precarious position: Almost half of them are 
unemployed and live in extreme poverty, not receiving help either from their relatives or from the state.

In addition to the financial cost, the procedures of receiving a birth certificate in Tajikistan were perceived as lengthy and time consuming.  UNDP has been supporting the Government of Tajikistan in addressing these issues through its Swiss Government funded “Support to Civil Registration System Reform” project.

The files on Nabieva Zulayhos desk will soon be artefacts of the past, once the transition to electronic system will have been completed.

The new electronic system introduced in April 2019 to eventually replace the paper based system is designed to reduce the time required to issue a certificate. The full shift will be made in several steps to allow for a smooth transition.

“Birth certificates can now be obtained within less than a half-day, once all documents are given to the ZAGS,” civil registry leading specialist Nabieva Zulayho from Vahdat office says. “This was different in 2016, when I started working here, it took a lot of time to process one birth certificate,” she adds, claiming that the effect from the new regulation is already noticeable: “Birth registration is now free of charge: We already can see that more people are coming to get birth certificates.”

These two elements – free birth registration and the transition to electronic system – are big milestones of the Civil Registration System Reform in Tajikistan. 

Stories similar to Nargis’s can now be prevented from the beginning, if the child is registered within the first three months after birth. Yet, there is much left to be done to ensure that young families are properly informed about the new possibilities.

Meanwhile, Nargis hopes for a better future for her daughters: “My children have now birth certificates and the day will come, I hope, that they will make me happy by bringing home school certificates and diplomas... And I know: they will not face the same problems as my husband and I.”

Nargis is not the beneficiary’s real name and is used to keep her identity anonymous at her own wish.