The right to a birth certificate – or why having a birth certificate is important

Under international law, all children have a right to be registered immediately after their birth. This right is laid down in multiple human rights conventions. The United Nations treaty devoted specifically to children’s rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), has been applicable in Germany since 1992.

Guide for Parents Search frequent questions

A birth certificate is the key document establishing a person’s legal existence (under law). Numerous situations that arise in the course of a lifetime require a person to show a birth certificate as proof of identity. Parents need their child’s birth certificate to draw state benefits like the child benefit (Kindergeld) and the parental allowance (Elterngeld), for instance. A person applying for their first passport or national identification card will also need to show a birth certificate, as will someone registering to be married.

Questions and answers about birth registration

What is the difference between a register printout and a birth certificate?

Both birth certificates and register printouts are considered “civil status certificates” (Personenstandsurkunden) in the meaning of the Civil Status Act (sect. 55(1), no. 1, PStG). The two types of certificates are legally equivalent (sect. 54(1), nos. 1 and 2, PStG). If the birth register entry includes a note stating that the parents have not supplied proof of identity, the legal conclusiveness of the record does not extend to the identity of the parents. This means that it does not extend to the child's surname either. Nonetheless, a register printout does serve as proof that a child with a specific given name was born at a specific place and time to the persons recorded as parents. Thus a register printout differs from a birth certificate in that the latter provides full evidence as to parentage.

Why are there such stringent requirements concerning the documents to be presented before a birth certificate can be issued?

Birth certificates constitute full proof as to the parentage of a child. It is important, therefore, that all of the facts recorded on them are true. The registrar has a duty to establish these facts and verify the authenticity of documents. Public records and documents issued in Germany are considered authentic. (A public record or document – an öffentliche Urkunde – is a record or document issued by a public authority or a person vested with the public trust.) Public records and documents issued by a foreign state generally have to be legalised and are always subjected to a thorough examination. Normally, they are then also classified as authentic. Other foreign public records and documents and private records and documents have to be examined through the procedure for taking evidence on an informal basis (Freibeweisverfahren). Moreover, all official records or documents must be presented in the original: copies are not acceptable. If this is not possible and the parents do not have private records or documents, then the registrar can accept evidence in the form of an “affirmation in lieu of an oath” (eidstaatliche Versicherung) under section 9, subsection 2, of the Civil Status Act (PStG). However, in the relevant case law, such affirmations have only been deemed acceptable in conjunction with other documents. Even then, the use of this option (affirmation in lieu of oath) is extremely rare in registry office practice – due to the high evidentiary value of the register of births.

What can be done if it is impossible to acquire the official documents and records?

The birth of a child must be registered even if the documents and records necessary for the issue of a birth certificate cannot be furnished. In such cases, a printout from the register of births can be issued for the child. Like a birth certificate, a certified register printout is a civil status certificate (see sect. 55(1), nos. 1 and 4 PStG, sects. 54(1) and 54(2) PStG and also sect. 35(1) PStV). The issue of such a printout instead of a birth certificate is subject to the condition that acquiring the official documents would be impossible, pose an unreasonable burden or be out of proportion (sect. 9(2) PStG) when the entry is recorded. The specific circumstances must be examined to determine whether this is the case. Requiring a person recognised as a refugee under the Geneva Refugee Convention (GFK Flüchtling) to apply for a passport would pose an unreasonable burden, for example. The acquisition of official documents can be deemed impossible if the country of origin does not operate an embassy in Germany and the person concerned cannot travel due to the lack of a passport. The acquisition of documents can be deemed disproportionate if the costs for the parties involved would be very high (more than EUR 1,000). In such cases, private records and documents (religious marriage certificates, records documenting military service, official school records) and attestations in lieu of an oath by the parents or relatives can serve as evidence in place of the public records and documents (sect.9(2) PStG). This must be clarified with the registry office based on the specific circumstances.

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