Nearly one in five Aboriginal children below the age of 16 in Western Australia have no official identity because their births are not registered, according to a study published by The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. About 4,628 Aboriginal births to Aboriginal mothers were not registered in the WA Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages between 1996 and 2012.

This is more common to Australians living in remote areas and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Those births to Aboriginal mothers aged less than 16 years are five time more likely to be unregistered than the births to mothers aged 30 years and above.

Aboriginal children born in rural hospitals and those born to mothers whose own birth was not registered were also more likely to have unregistered births. Mothers who smoked and took alcohol during pregnancy were more likely not to register their babies.

Aboriginal children

Flickr/Diba Tillery

Aboriginal mothers from Queensland also face the same problem. About 17 percent of the Aboriginal children ages two to four do not have registered births.

The findings suggest that Aboriginal families face problems in registering the birth of their babies. Registering births require literacy and money (AUD $47), which may be unavailable to some Aboriginals.

According to the study’s lead author Alison Gibberd, a PhD student from the University of Sydney, hospitals should provide assistance to Aboriginals to help them complete their birth registration forms. Sandra Eades, head of Aboriginal health programs at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, adds that this must be done before the mother and her newborn leave the hospital.

Eades says that an Australian’s first evidence of identity is his birth certificate, which can only be claimed once a birth is registered. Proof of identity gives one the rights of an Australian citizen such as getting a driver’s license, opening a bank account and getting a passport, to mention a few.

The study emphasizes the need for better education about the positive consequences of having births registered, adds Barbara Henry, CEO of Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service Inc.  Henry is optimistic that making birth registration easier is very simple.

“We could look at streamlining the current system and providing additional support to new mothers to complete the birth registration paperwork before they leave hospital,” explains Henry. “It may also be possible to integrate administrative assistance for mothers through existing funded programs such as nurse home visits.”