• Nearly one in five Aboriginal children aged less than 16 years old in Western Australia had unregistered births according to new research. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A new study shows that almost one-in-five Aboriginal children aged 16 and under in Western Australia haven't had their birth registered. With no birth certificate, these children don't have an 'official identity' and are most likely to lack proof of citizenship.
By
Yasmin Noone

4 Jul 2016 - 1:11 PM  UPDATED 4 Jul 2016 - 2:10 PM

Nearly one-in-five Aboriginal children aged under 16 years old in Western Australia have no official identity and may be excluded from participating in activities requiring proof of age because their birth was never registered, a study released today finds.

New research published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, shows that in 2012, there was no record of 18 per cent of all Aboriginal babies, born to Aboriginal mothers in the WA Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

This is despite the fact that the over 26,400 births, attended by a doctor or midwife, were documented in the state’s Midwives Notification System, through the hospital system.

The study also shows that nearly 30 per cent of Indigenous babies born in very remote locations of WA were not registered, compared to 11 per cent of those born in the state’s major cities.

Aboriginal children born to mothers aged less than 16 years were almost five times more likely to be unregistered than those born to mothers aged 30 years and older.

The study also shows that almost 30 per cent of Indigenous babies born in very remote locations of WA were not registered, compared to 11 per cent of those born in the state’s major cities.

The study’s lead author, University of Sydney PhD student, Alison Gibberd, explains that Indigenous babies who do not have their birth registered do not have a birth certificate and have no proof of identity or Australian citizenship. They will consequently face a number of social barriers throughout their childhood.

“If you don’t have a birth certificate, then it’s so much harder to access all the services you are eligible for,” says Ms Gibberd. 

“For example, if you’re a child wanting to play in a sporting competition for the under sevens team, then you need evidence of your age to certify that you are eligible.

“And, as you get older, you need a birth certificate to open a bank account and to apply for a passport. It’s also much harder to get a tax file number and you need it to get a driver’s licence.”

The study highlights that birth registrations increased as children got older, with only three per cent of Aboriginal children born to Aboriginal mothers not registered by the time they reached age 32.

According to the WA Department of the Attorney General, a person aged 16 years or more can apply for their birth certificate but identification must be provided.

Aboriginal health leader and study co-author, Professor Sandra Eades of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, says it is every child’s human right to be registered at birth, not later in life.

“This was not a political or ideological decision to renounce citizenship or a decision made as an adult. It is a systemic failing, as it’s happening to around 20 per cent of Indigenous families,” says Prof Eades.

The birth of infants of 20 weeks or more gestation and/or 400 grams birth weight must be notified to the WA Department of Health by attending midwives or medical officers.

Birth registrations records only include those children where the parent/s have lodged an application to register the birth. West Australian parents are required to lodge the necessary forms with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages within 60 days of a child’s birth.

“This was not a political or ideological decision to renounce citizenship or a decision made as an adult. It is a systemic failing, as it’s happening to around 20 per cent of Indigenous families.”

The study shows that unregistered births were more common among babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy; had an alcohol-related diagnosis near the time of the birth; whose own birth was unregistered; and who had no private health insurance.

Ms Gibberd believes that unregistered Indigenous births in WA are associated with a lack literacy skills and socioeconomic disadvantage.

“We can only hypothesise that the process of birth registrations puts the onus on the parents at a time when there’s a brand new baby in the house and that process requires a reasonable level of literacy to fill out the form and if both parents don’t sign it, then you need to provide a written explanation why,” she says.

Birth registration forms are supplied to parents soon after the birth of a child by hospital staff or a midwife. The process of birth registration is free but a birth certificate currently costs $48. 

“Registering a birth also relies on parents recognising the value of birth registration, particularly if they cannot afford the cost of a birth certificate at that time.”

CEO of Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service Inc, Barbara Henry, says the report highlights the need for action to improve Indigenous education and provide more support for new Indigenous parents to complete the birth registration paperwork before they leave hospital.

“It may also be possible to integrate administrative assistance for mothers through existing funded programs such as nurse home visits,” says Ms Henry.

“…Now that we understand the scope of the problem, we can turn our attention to raising community awareness and finding creative solutions.”

Why we need to support Aboriginal women’s choice to give birth on country
COMMENT | Around 9.6 out of every 1,000 Aboriginal babies are stillborn, or die in childbirth or the first 28 days of life, compared with 8.1 non-Aboriginal babies. Getting maternity care right for Aboriginal women is critical to closing this gap.