Collection of essays about birth registration and the right to citizenship
I picked up book last year while I was attending the 2019 Castan Centre for Human Rights Conference. It was sitting on a table with a number of other pieces of free reading material, and as statelessness and the barriers that exist to obtaining documentation is something of interest to me, I nabbed myself a copy. Then, when I was looking for some shortish books in a desperate bid to meet my 2019 reading goal, I thought I’d better give it a read.
“Proof of Birth” edited by Melissa Castan and Paula Gerber is a collection of essays that explore the issue of birth registration, the barriers that exist to obtaining a birth certificate and the legal and social implications of struggling to prove your identity and citizenship. The book has a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences and how disadvantage, distance, traditional naming conventions and financial barriers can make it difficult to participate in Australia’s birth registration system. The book also investigates case studies in countries such as Nepal and Indonesia.
This book tackles an important issue that I think a lot of people are simply unaware of. A birth certificate is something that the majority of us simply take for granted. A birth certificate means that we can get other documents like a driver license or a passport. It means that we can easily reach 100 points of identity when engaging with the government or when doing a police check when applying for jobs. It means that we are counted, that legally we exist. However, for a lot of people in Australia, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, getting a birth certificate means having to overcome sometimes insurmountable barriers. This is a thoughtful and well-considered book that explores this issue from a number of perspectives, and sensitively compares the challenges experienced in Australia with challenges experienced in other countries in the region.
The contributors are from a wide range of fields – community legal centres, community health organisations, academia, government and business – and share some extraordinary expertise with the reader. I think that the essays are all well-edited and get their point across clearly and quickly, using statistics, analysis and some fascinating case studies of programs that work well and unintended consequences of overly punitive systems.
I think it is important to note that this is a book that is written in an academic and legalistic style. While not inaccessible per se, the intended audience is not the people who may struggle to obtain identity documents, but rather an intellectual elite who make the policies.
Nevertheless, this is an important subject and this book is short enough in length yet broad enough in scope to be able to cover the issues quickly and thoroughly. An important and under-discussed area of human rights law.