The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
What does article 7 say?
Article 7 sets out children's right to be registered immediately after birth, to a name, nationality and - as far as possible - to know and be cared for by their parents. It requires States Parties to fulfil these rights in accordance with other national and international obligations, especially where children would otherwise be stateless.
Why is this important?
Registering each child and making sure they have a name and nationality is the first step to recognising each individual as a human being with rights. These are core elements of all individuals' identity. Without them, children remain invisible into adulthood: they have no legal identity, no voice and are at greater risk of other rights abuses. This article is not only crucial to children, but also to States because, in order to develop laws and policies that make sense, they need accurate information about the number and situation of children in their country.
What are the problems?
Children need identity documents to access a host of other rights, from education to health care and State benefits. This makes unregistered children some of the most vulnerable in the world. The fact that they have no record of who and how old they are also means they are denied protections afforded to other children. For instance, in countries where the death penalty is still permitted for adults, but has - at least in law - been abolished for children, they may be still executed in practice because they are unable to prove their status as children (Yemen). The denial of education is another common obstacle, the consequences of which can ripple into future generations (Dominican Republic). The absence of identity documents also makes children more vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation because without legal status they are entirely at their abusers' mercy (Siliadin v. France).
Even where children are registered, the type of information recorded on their birth certificate can also violate their rights and lead to discriminatory treatment. For example, in some countries children's status as a 'foreigner' is recorded and means they are denied rights enjoyed by other children.
The right to a name - another fundamental aspect of children's identity - may be violated by their parents or the State. In the Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, some girls are given the name 'Nakusha' which means 'unwanted' in the Marathi language because parents believe that this will ensure their next child is a boy. Some States are prescriptive about names, a practice that can discriminate against minorities who have different naming traditions. Morocco's requirement that names are 'Moroccan in character', for example, meant that for many years names from the Amazigh minority were rejected by the Civil Registry, a situation which has now been rectified by a government directive. In other countries States deny children born out of wedlock the right to inherit their father's surname.
The right to an identity and a name are intrinsically linked to nationality, without which individuals have no legal status (except where they are granted protection status as a refugee). And birth registration does not necessarily equal acquisition of nationality. In many countries, children inherit their parents' legal status. This means that if a child's parents are not citizens themselves, their children may be stateless. In such cases, violations of their rights are already lined up against them before they are born: pregnant women are denied adequate pre and postnatal care, jeopardising their child's life as well as their own; in turn, children do not receive immunisations and may experience barriers to education. In some cases there is also an element of gender discrimination to this issue where, for example, women married to a foreign man are unable to pass on their nationality to their children.
What should States do about it?
Article 7 requires children to be registered immediately after birth. There should be no fee attached to birth registration. This obligation should be set out in domestic law and is the compulsory duty of parents and the administrative authorities. In its recommendations to States, the Committee has recommended various ways of achieving universal birth registration, including:
- public awareness campaigns;
- placing mobile registration units in remote areas;
- establishing registration units in schools and health clinics; and - promoting cooperation between health professionals such as midwives and the authorities.
While birth registration documents are public, steps should be taken to protect individuals' privacy to make sure the information recorded does not lead to discrimination.
In addition, the absence of a birth certificate should not be used to deny children other rights.
The right to a name
Children should be given a name from birth, not recorded as numbers as has happened to some refugees, or in any other way that degrades their dignity. The registration of a child's name should not discriminate against people from minority cultures - this can add to their marginalisation both in the present and later in life, for instance, rendering them unable to vote.
States should also ensure provisions are made for children to apply to change their name if they choose when they acquire the ability to do so. Oversight mechanisms can also prevent children from being given a name which would subject them to ridicule.
The right to acquire a nationality
Nationality is generally granted either on the basis of where a person is born or the nationality of their parents. Article 7 requires that States ensure that a child acquires a nationality in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless. In practice this means that children born on the territory of a State Party should be granted access to that State’s nationality if the child does not acquire another nationality through their parents. Article 7 also requires that States refer to other international instruments to help children acquire a nationality. This includes the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness which similarly asserts that children should be granted, automatically or by application, citizenship in the country of birth if they would otherwise be stateless. Citizenship laws should not discriminate on the basis of gender and allow both mothers and fathers to pass down their nationality to their child. Stateless children should also have the right to acquire the nationality of the country they have lived in and received protection from for a certain period of time to ensure that they are lawful residents with full civil and political rights, included in society, when they reach the age of majority.
Children's right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their parents
Children's right to know and be cared for by their parents 'as far as possible' raises complicated questions, not least because of the increasingly broad definition of parents, for example, where children are conceived from in vitro fertilisation. This means a child's birth parents are different from their genetic parents. Some countries have laws to ensure parents' anonymity. In other cases, a conflict may arise between a child's right to know and their parents' right to anonymity, for instance, a mother may not wish to reveal that her child was conceived through rape or if she would be ostracised or otherwise at risk. In such instances, the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption upholds the mother's right to privacy. But it may still be possible to obtain permission from the mother to inform the child at a suitable time. Elsewhere, States limit children's right to know who their parents are if they are adopted, born out of wedlock or conceived in vitro fertilisation.
However, in all cases, children should at minimum have the right to non-identifying medical information about their genetic parents. After all, the right to 'the highest attainable standard of health' under article 24, inevitably involves questions about family history. Denying children relevant medical information could harm their standard of care and unnecessarily put their health at risk. Where there are no countervailing concerns about invading a genetic parent's protected privacy, this information should be provided to children without question. In addition, States should not only grant children access to existing information about their origins, but should also be encouraged to ensure that medical information is maintained on gametes donors and persons placing children up for adoption.
Children's right to be cared for by their parents as far as possible is also addressed in other articles - see 9, 18, 20. There may be cases where this is not possible if their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. In some instances children may themselves choose to leave home. In such cases, efforts should focus on addressing the reasons they left in the first place. Returning children as the default action could result in violations of their rights.
This page forms part of a guide to children's rights as set out in the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The guide explains what these rights mean, why they are important and what States should do to guarantee them.