My daughter just turned three a month back and that was when my wife and I had a discussion about which schools to get her into. Going through a few schools' websites, it was evident that the birth certificate of the child tops the list of all the mandatory requirements needed for admission.
A child barely requires any documentary evidence until they reach the age to go to school. Therefore, most parents do not feel the urgency to get the paperwork done in spite of having a lot of time in hand. This results in them rushing and losing their sleep at the last moment.
This is the exact situation that my wife and I are in at the moment. As the school admission deadline closes in and we wait for our daughter's birth certificate, we fear she may have to wait another year to go to school.
The "Birth and Death Registration Act 2004" requires parents, guardians or any prescribed person of the child to provide information related to the birth of the child to the Registrar within 45 days of the child's birth.
Not only that, if anyone refuses to abide by the rules, they may be liable to a fine not exceeding Tk5,000! This means parents must start worrying about paperwork the moment their child arrives in this world.
For a long time, one had to visit the Union Parishad or the Ward Commissioner in person in order to start the process of obtaining a birth certificate. But ever since the launch of the Birth and Death Registration Information System (hereinafter BDRIS) in 2009, citizens can now apply for both birth and death certificates online.
With an ambitious aim to digitalise citizens' records, the interface of the website has been kept as simple as possible. The applicant has to fill up his/her name both in English and Bangla, date of birth, details of his/her address.
It looks all sophisticated till you click the button that takes you to the next page. Among the mandatory text boxes that need to be filled up are your father and mother's individual 17-digit Birth Registration Number (hereinafter BRN). And this is where it gets complicated.
Long story short, I could not complete my child's birth registration since there is no record of my birth registration on the database. Upon enquiring at my ward councillor's office, I was informed that the birth certificate which was issued to me back in 2010 has become invalid since I did not re-apply for it online.
He also informed me that birth/death certificates issued by the Registrar before the launch of the BDRIS have to be renewed using the new online process, otherwise there will not be any record on the system.
The complexities of the system
If your child was born after a certain time before the BDRIS, both you and your spouse must enter valid BRNs, full names and nationality, as it is mandatory in the second stage (there is a red asterisk beside the requirements). You will not be able to go to the next steps if you do not fill up the textboxes.
If both of you have valid BRNs, your full names would appear instantly. There is a textbox for both the parents' NID number (which does not have a red asterisk, meaning it is optional) but surprisingly you cannot enter any text in it if your child was born after a certain time.
This goes to show, if you as a parent do not have your records online, you must do so, or else you may not be able to register for your child.
When you, born way before the BDRIS, start the online registration process (regardless of being a parent or not), you may become puzzled at this second stage of the process. You have to input your parents' BRNs (which is likely not in the database as well).
Since these text boxes having asterisks are known to be mandatory, you know you will not want to move forward without filling them up. You somehow manage to enter your parents' BRNs but it gets declined for not being on the records. Being a patient person, you now sit to apply for your parents' individual birth registration online, hoping to see through to its end.
But when you are in the second stage, you will see that the website is again seeking for the valid BRNs of your parents' parents (who may not even have any birth certificate to begin with, also they may not even exist anymore). This drives you crazy and you eventually give up on even thinking of obtaining a birth certificate for yourself.
How the system can be made easier with just one simple change
What you do not know is that, if you were born before January 1st 2001, you may apply for your birth certificate just by entering your parents' NID number, there is no need for their valid BRNs. But one cannot figure this out by simply looking at the textboxes as there is no asterisk beside the NID number requirement.
In this case, both the NID textboxes open up and you can actually enter information into them. You can find this information from the answer to Question 1 in paragraph 2 of the FAQ page, but that too does not specifically mention any time period. However, you are bound to get confused if you initially started this process for your child.
The only technical error in the website is that the interface is the same for everyone, regardless of what birth year you have entered in the beginning. The second step of the registration process must be synchronised according to the information the user enters in the first step.
If one enters a birth year which is older than the system, the position of the asterisks must automatically shift from "Parents' Birth Registration Number" to "Parents' NID Card Number".
There must be clear instructions and examples at every stage of the process. There can also be an additional notification that tells you that you can actually complete the registration using their individual NID numbers. This way, the process will be easier than it already is.
While it cannot be denied that you can avail of different government services with a Birth Registration Certificate in hand, the accessibility of the system is what remains a matter of argument. The BDRIS is undoubtedly a bold step towards a Digital Bangladesh that we all dream of.
But due to such technical glitches, the process has been made unnecessarily complicated. For parents this has become a lengthy process, first obtaining certificates for themselves and then applying on behalf of their children. This in turn further delays a child's education and should be fixed immediately to avoid further complications.
Barrister Aiman R. Khan is an Associate Advocate at Rahman Law Associates & Company.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.