The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Protecting Identity or Expanding Identification? Exploring the Mixed Implications of Universal Birth Registration in Thailand

Across the world, the campaign for Universal Birth Registration (UBR) is underway. In the eyes of many human rights and development advocates, universal birth registration is key to preventing statelessness, securing the legal bond of nationality for children of non-citizens, promoting perinatal and vaccination programs, preventing child marriage, and reducing child labor violations. As enthusiasm for UBR grows, the campaign is gaining traction in countries that have maintained longstanding reservations on rights to birth registration. In 2011, Thailand removed its reservation on Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and now guarantees all children born in on Thai soil the right to birth registration. While the move was widely lauded, the implications of the program remain unclear, particularly for groups of minorities whose "rights to belong" as citizens of Thailand remain tenuous at best. This paper draws on evidence from extensive ethnographic and survey research in Thailand to examine how and whether the promotion of UBR is affecting highlanders in the northern borderlands. Results of the study indicate that UBR is likely contributing to changing birthing practices among highland minority women who increasingly give birth in hospitals in order to register their children at birth. Enhanced contact between these women and state health care providers may be enhancing perinatal care, vaccination rates, as well as HIV/AIDS testing and treatment among groups who remain at highest risk in the country for HIV/AIDS and maternal and infant mortality. At the same time, however, findings also indicate that, among children born to non-citizens, those who are not registered at birth may be significantly more likely than those who are registered to eventually acquire citizenship. Rather than securing the bond of nationality, these findings suggest that expanding the technopolitical agenda of UBR in states that do not recognize jus soli citizenship may contribute, not to secure rights and recognition for minorities and marginalized groups, but rather to expanded programs of state surveillance and exclusion of these groups under the law. In other words, in non jus soli states like Thailand, UBR may undermine statelessness prevention campaigns by providing "legitimate evidence" that a child does not belong.

Event reference: 
The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity