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Asia Seeks to Improve Vital Birth Registrations

This week government ministers from Southeast Asia are meeting in Bangkok to discuss how to improve official registrations of births, deaths and marriages - critical measures for providing government services.

Thailand has had notable success but issues remain, especially with birth registrations for children of migrant workers.

Just hours after coming into the world, baby Edar is among the lucky ones. Her registration process has already commenced - something that will prove vital for her chances to rise above a subsistence existence.

Edar's mother, a 30-year-old from Myanmar who has been working in Thailand for seven years, says she is aware of how critical the documentation will be for her second child.

“Without a birth certificate, my child will not be able to go to school," she says, "previously schools [in Thailand] would enroll children who didn't have birth certificates. So everyone now should get the certificates for their babies."

Less than enthusiastic

Some officials remain less than enthusiastic about certifying non-Thai births, although the kingdom's law mandates that all newborns, within 15 days, must be registered and given a national identification number.

“The message that we always emphasize is that birth registration is the right for every child whether they are Thai or non-Thai and that the hospital should do everything to help the parents," explaines Napat Phisanbut, UNICEF Thailand. "Especially those who don't speak Thai and might not know the process to understand what is the importance of birth registration and the process that they need to do.”

However, about one-third of the births in this country by mothers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are still not being processed. Sometimes this is due to discrimination; in other cases officials are neglectful or corrupt.

The Samut Prakan Hospital's maternity ward has become a magnet for migrant workers due to its reputation for welcoming non-Thai expectant mothers.

Each month it delivers 150 babies who will not get Thai citizenship, but the government-run hospital ensures all are properly registered.

“We have an online birth registration system to speed up the process between our hospital and the municipal government office, so the correct information can be processed quickly," says Sripapi Khlaidon, a hospital health officer. "This means no one has to go back and forth between the hospital and the government center.”

Registration rates

While Thailand - where 95 percent of births occur in a hospital - is held up as a model case, some other Asian countries are faring relatively poorly for birth registrations.

In Nepal, it is at 42 percent. India had about the same rate until 2012, but new data about to be released is to show a substantial improvement.

That leaves Pakistan as faring the worst in Asia with just 27 percent of births being registered - a percentage ranking as the lowest in the world, except for some African countries and Yemen.

In light of that, delegates to this week's regional conference are to commit to universal registration by the year 2024.

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