Is citizenship linked to birth certificates?

Like a birth certificate, citizenship plays a key role in a person’s life. A person who is not recogniseds as a citizen by any country is considered to be stateless. The right to a nationality is also a human right because a person who does not have a nationality is legally “invisible”. The right to a birth certificate and the right to a nationality exist independently of one another. Being born in Germany does not give rise to a right to be granted German citizenship. The case is different with respect to the right to have one’s birth registered: Germany does have an obligation under the UNCRC to issue a birth certificate to anyone borne within its territory.

Under what circumstances might deferring a registration be advisable?

From a children’s rights perspective, a birth certificate must be issued for every child born in Germany. However, the registry office does have the possibility of deferring the recording of a birth (sect. 7 PStV) if the identity of the parents has not been established.

In such cases, the registry office must issue a certificate acknowledging that the civil status case was reported but has not yet been recorded. A deferral can be helpful in the sense that it can give the parents time to obtain documents that will help establish their identity. However, the length of the deferral is a critical factor: failure to complete the registration of a birth due to a deferral of the recording procedure for several months would amount to a violation of article 7 of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights (UNCRC). Thus, from a children’s rights perspective, issuing a deferral certificate is advisable only if it is going to be possible to establish the facts to be recorded in a timely manner. This is because, unlike a register printout, a deferral certificate is not a civil status certificate (Personenstandsurkunde) as defined in the Civil Status Act (sect. 55(1), no. 1, PStG) and thus does not have the same evidentiary value.

If it is unrealistic to expect the facts to be established fully within two weeks of learning of the birth/report of the birth, then the registry office should issue a certified register printout rather than deferring the registration. If appropriate, the register printout should contain a note stating that the identity of the parents has not been fully established (sect. 35 PStV). By law, register printouts have the same legal status as birth certificates (sect. 54(2) PStG) subject to the caveat in the explanatory note.

Thus, a register printout has evidentiary value with respect to the birth of the child, notwithstanding the note concerning the unestablished identity of the parents. If it subsequently becomes possible to establish the facts to be recorded, the entry in the register can be amended ex post facto, and a birth certificate can be issued. It can be helpful to confer with the registrar about the best option in the given circumstances and to clarify how long it will take to acquire necessary documents. The rights of the child concerned under the UNCRC should always be borne in mind in this context.

What is the meaning of the phrase “within a reasonable period of time” as it is used in section 7 of the Civil Status Ordinance (PStV)?

The federal legislature has called for a deferred registration to be completed “within a reasonable period of time” (“in angemessener Frist”: sect. 7(1), sent. 2, PStV). However, the maximum length of a “reasonable period of time” has not been established: the last time it addressed this question (in its response to a minor interpellation submitted by members of the Bundestag in 2016), the Federal Government said that the circumstances of an individual case constituted the only basis upon which an objective judgement could be made about the length of this period. This is undoubtedly true in fact. However, in light of the provision in article 7 of the UNCRC regarding the “immediate” registration of births, four months should be defined as the maximum period within which a deferred registration must be completed.

In what ways is a register printout not equivalent to a birth certificate?

The recording of a birth in a state register results in the state obtaining data that it needs for certain purposes. However, the person whose birth is recorded does not obtain any benefit through the mere act of this recording. It is the birth certificate that contains the proof of the state’s recognition of the child’s capacity to be a holder of rights and obligations and endows the person with the capacity to exercise other rights, in the sense of the UNCRC. Birth certificates serve an evidentiary function, enabling children to prove their identity and specifically also their parentage in the legal sense.

Initially, a certified register printout also fulfils this evidentiary function (sect. 35 PStV and sect. 54 PStG). However, this applies only on the condition that the authorities do not suspend their efforts to issue a birth certificate when they issue the printout. Yet this is precisely what is happening, according to reports received by the National CRC Monitoring Mechanism. Over the longer term, a certified register printout cannot fulfil all of the functions of a birth certificate (issued in Germany). A birth certificate is de facto a prerequisite for naturalisation, for instance, because in that context the bar for determining that a person’s identity has been fully established is quite high and the certified register printout is not sufficient. People who present a certified register printout rather than a birth certificate can also run into problems when they want to get married.

One of the biggest obstacles, though, is that officials to whom the certified register printout is presented, particularly those at benefit-granting institutions, are not always aware that such printouts have the same legal status as a birth certificate (sect. 54(2), PStG). Thus, despite being equivalent de jure, these documents are not equivalent de facto, often with the result that benefit payments are delayed or never received at all. Thus from a children’s rights perspective, a certified printout is only an interim instrument.

How is the issue of a tax identification number (Steuer ID) related to the registration of a child’s birth and to child benefit payments?

Tax identification numbers are assigned after registration authorities transmit the relevant data to the tax authorities (sect. 139b(6) of the Fiscal Code (Abgabenverordnung: AO)). Registry offices notify the registration authorities of the registration of a birth in accordance with section 17(4) of the Federal Act on Registration (Bundesmeldegesetz: BMG) in conjunction with section 57(1), number 3, of the Civil Status Ordinance. In principle, the registry offices should notify the registration authorities of the existence of a child upon receipt of the report of the child’s birth. However, because a deferral of the registration on the basis of section 7 of the Civil Status Ordinance (PStV) does not constitute the registration of a birth (in the meaning of sect. 17(4) of the BMG), deferrals can prevent the automatic mechanism that results in the assignment of tax identification numbers from functioning properly. This is problematic, because the identification of the child through a tax identification number is a prerequisite for the granting of child benefits under sections 62 and 63 of the Income Tax Act (Einkommensteuergesetz: EStG).

What is the legal basis for the registration of births?

There are legal bases for the issue of a record of birth registration in both international and national law. Article 7, paragraph 1, of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is of particular importance from the perspective of children’s rights. It reads: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth...”.

In Germany, the civil registry offices (Standesämter) are responsible for recording births in the register of births and for the subsequent issuance of birth certificates. The following laws contain provisions of particular relevance for German registry offices: the Civil Status Act (PStG: Personenstandsgesetz), the Civil Status Ordinance (PStV: Personenstandsverordnung), the Introductory Act to the Civil Code (EGBGB: Einführungsgesetz zum Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch), the Civil Code itself (BGB: Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) and the Code of Civil Procedure (ZPO: Zivilprozessordung). International and European law is also of significance for registry offices, since they, like all state bodies, have an obligation to comply with international law. You can find more information about relevant legal provisions in the “Legal bases” section of this site.

The German-law provisions in this section are cited in German unless the relevant federal ministry has posted an (unofficial) English translation prepared by its language services unit or an external expert.

What events in a person’s life make having a birth certificate a necessity?

The “slider” towards the top of the homepage highlights the importance of having a birth certificate in connection with various situations in life.

How does a child get a birth certificate?

A report of the birth of a child must be filed by the parents, the hospital or the birth centre within one week of any birth (sect. 18, Pesto and sect. 6, PStV). On the basis of this report, the child’s birth is recorded in the birth register (sect. 21, PStG), and the registry office issues a birth certificate (sect. 59 PStG) or a certified register printout (sect. 55(1,) no. 1, PStG). An interpreter must be called in if anyone involved does not understand German (sect. 2(2), PStV).

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.

What are the responsibilities of a registry office (Standesamt)?

Registrars are responsible for the official recording of civil status matters:

  • Official recording of marriages, births and deaths, including the subsequent recording (Nachbeurkundung) thereof (e.g. after an event that took place abroad)
  • Official recording of acknowledgements of paternity (Vaterschaftsanerkennung)
  • Official recording of declarations of names of children, spouses and civil partners.
  • Issue of certificates of no impediment to marriage for persons planning to marry in another country

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.

I have the impression that the registrar is not making use of the full range of legal options. What can I do?

Registrars are not subject to directives in the performance of their recording duties (sect. 2 of the Civil Status Act (PStG)).

You can, however, communicate your doubts, ideas and suggestions to the registrar and, for instance, draw their attention to recent court decisions of relevance. Section 49 of the Civil Status Act authorises the competent court to instruct the registry office to perform the duties of its office should it have failed to do so. If an entry recorded in a register is found to contain false information, an amendment (Berichtigung) can be recorded by the registry office ex officio (sect. 47 PStG) or on the basis of a court order (sect. 48 PStG).

What documents must be presented upon the registration of the birth of a child?

A registry office cannot issue a birth certificate until all of the facts to be recorded on it have been fully established. This follows from the evidentiary power of the birth certificate (sect. 54(1), nos. 1 and 4 and sect. 54(2) PStG). In other words, it is due to the fact that a birth certificate provides full proof of the parentage of the child in question. For this reason, registry offices examine documents presented with the report of a birth very closely.

As a rule, the following documents must be presented when a birth is reported (sects. 8 and 33 PStV):

  • Parents’ personal identification cards
  • Parents' passports or “documents in lieu of a passport”
  • Parents’ birth certificates
  • Parent’s marriage certificate (if there is one) or acknowledgement of paternity (Vaterschaftsanerkennung)
  • Joint declaration by the parents concerning the exercise of joint custody (Sorgerrechtserklärung) (optional)
  • Confirmation of the birth (hospitals automatically transmit confirmation of births that take place on their premises to the competent registry office)
  • If a child of non-German nationals may have acquired German citizenship by being born in Germany (sect. 4(3) of the Nationality Act (Staatsangehhörigkeitsgesetz: StAG)), information about the permanent residence of the relevant parent(s) (sect. 34 PStV)

Official documents in a language other than German should be translated by a sworn authorised translator (sect. 2(2) PStV) and must be authentic (have undergone legalisation or bear an apostille). 

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.

Can a person’s legal (protection) status play a role in determining what can be required of them in relation to the acquisition of documents?

The protection status of the parents of the child whose birth is being registered can play a role in terms of what can reasonably be expected of them in relation to the acquisition of documents. For instance, it is not unusual for a visit to a national embassy to be necessary in order to obtain identity documents. Under the law governing asylum, however, no one whose asylum process is still underway can be required to visit the embassy of their state of origin. In the case of persons who have recognised refugee or asylum status, applying for a passport at their national embassy is out of the question, as by entering that embassy such persons would be seen under the Asylum Act (sect. 72 AsylG) as placing themselves anew under the protection of the state that persecuted them. Determining whether persons granted subsidiary protection and persons under the “Dublin procedure” can reasonably be expected to visit the embassy of their country of origin requires an assessment of the specific circumstances. By contrast, persons who were ordered to depart at the end of their asylum procedure but whose deportation has been temporarily suspended (Geduldete) are generally expected to apply for necessary documents at the embassy of their country of origin. The protection status of the parents also has a bearing on the registrar’s decision as to which form of registration is most appropriate: If it is clear from the start that acquiring the documents and records would pose an unreasonable burden, the issuance of a certified register printout with a note explaining that the identity of the parents has not been established appears to be the obvious choice and the option of deferring the registration would be inadvisable.

When parents and the registrar disagree about the best approach to take, it is important that both sides try to understand the other’s position: registrars have to adhere to the regulations and must examine the documents presented to them very carefully before recording a birth. For their part, people who go to the registry office to have their child’s birth registered would generally be happy to be in the position of being able to provide all of the documents required of them. There are many reasons why people who fled their home countries might be unable to provide certain documents or why doing so might entail considerable difficulty for them. They may also be very wary about handing over the few original documents and records that they have managed to keep and may need to develop a sense of trust in the situation and the other parties involved before they can do so.

The registrar has requested that the documents be legalised - will I have to pay for that myself?

A registrar who has any doubts about the authenticity of a document will initiate a verification procedure and decide whether legalisation or an apostille is necessary. Legalisation takes place via the offices of the German mission (embassy or consulate) in the country of origin. The apostille is used instead of the legalisation procedure for documents issued by some states. Apostilles are issued by the designated authorities of the state which issued the document. There are countries in which the German mission does not perform legalisation procedures. For documents originating in one of those countries, an alternative procedure is necessary to verify authenticity. These alternative procedures also take place via the offices of the German mission in the country which issued the document. The registrar files an inter-agency assistance request for such a procedure. More information on this is available on the website of the Federal Foreign Office.

These procedures can give rise to fees or authentication expenses that are normally not covered by the state. These costs must be paid by the persons concerned.

What constitutes sufficient proof of identity?

Several different answers to the question of what evidence is deemed sufficient to establish identity can be found in the relevant jurisprudence. The primary means of establishing a person’s identity, nationality and, in principle, name is the presentation of a national passport. Other official documents and records can also be used to establish identity on a case-by-case basis; see the answer to the next question as well.

Are expired identity documents acceptable as proof of identity? Other than a national passport, what other documents or records might be acceptable? Is the “blue passport” (travel document issued to refugees) sufficient to establish identity?

There is no single definitive answer to the question of what documents are deemed acceptable as proof of identity: the answer will vary from one case to the next. It always comes down to whether the registry office (or the court) is satisfied that the documents/records presented provide a sufficient basis to fully establish a person's identity. The following means of establishing identity have been mentioned in relevant jurisprudence more than once:

  • an expired passport can be presented to help establish identity

  • a personal identity document issued by a non-EU country can also be used. For instance, the presentation of an identity card (in combination with other documents) can suffice in the case of Palestinian refugees.

  • In principle, documents issued in lieu of a passport, in the form of travel documents for refugees (the “blue passport”, sect. 1(3) of the Ordinance Governing Residence (Aufenthaltsverordnung: AufenthV)), for stateless persons (sect. 1(4) AufenthV) or for foreigners (sect. 5(1) AufenthV) are appropriate for use in establishing identity (in conjunction with other documents) unless the travel document in question contains an explanatory note under section 4(6) of the Ordinance Governing Residence (which states that the personal data is based only on information reported by the applicant).

In such cases, the presentation of additional evidence is normally requested, for example, identity documents of other members of the individual’s family that have already been judged authentic, procedural files compiled by the immigration authorities and/or an attestation in lieu of oath by the person concerned (sect. 9(2), PStG).

Why was the child not given the father’s surname? Why doesn’t the birth certificate give the father’s name?

In principle, a child whose parents are married bears the family name (surname) shared by the parents. Parents who are married but do not share a family name or who are not married but have joint custody are entitled to determine, jointly, the family name of their child. In such cases, parents can opt to have German law or the law of their state of origin apply with regard to their choice of family name (sect. 10(2) of the Introductory Act to the Civil Code (EGBGB)).

The registrar will record the father in the register as the mother’s husband if the parents have presented an authentic marriage certificate, provided the marriage is in force under substantive law (sect.1592 BGB and sect.13 and sect.19 EGBGB).

If the parents cannot provide proof that they are married, the father can sign an acknowledgement of paternity (Vaterschaftsanerkennung) in line with the German Civil Code, section 1592 and those that follow, and this can serve as evidence of the child’s parentage. It is possible for the parents to have an acknowledgement of paternity and a joint custody declaration (Sorgerechtserklärung) recorded at the competent youth welfare office (Jugendamt) even before the birth of the child.

In situations where the mother is presumed to be married –due to a non-recognition of a foreign divorce, for example – the (assumed) husband is viewed as the child’s father even if someone else is the child’s biological father. In these cases, the recording of an acknowledgement of paternity by the biological father will not suffice, the legal father (husband) must file an action contesting paternity at the local court as well. It is important to be aware that parents have only three months to file for a subsequent change of surname after having a joint custody declaration recorded.

The father will not be recorded in the birth registration if the parents do not have the necessary certificates and have not recorded an acknowledgement of paternity and a joint custody declaration. In such cases the mother’s surname is recorded as the surname of the child in the register of births. A change of name can be recorded later by the registry office or a court once all the necessary documents are available.

Why did I receive a birth certificate for one child and a register printout for the other, even though the circumstances are the same?

If all of the circumstances really are the same, the civil registry office must officially record the birth and issue the birth certificate. Data recorded in another German civil status register must be taken up (sect. 9(1) PStG).

Can a register printout/birth certificate be changed at a later date?

If information entered in the report of a birth is incorrect or incomplete, the registry office can change it before the register entry is finalised (sect. 46 PStG).

If it is determined that an entry in the register that has already been finalised does not accurately reflect the truth of its recording, the registry office can record an amendment (sect. 47 PStG). The registry office can record the amendment on its own initiative or at the instigation of one of the other parties involved.

If the register printout bears an explanatory note stating that the identity of the parents has not been established, the note can later be removed once all the documents necessary to prove the parents’ identity have been presented.

This is done through an amendment (Berichtigung), which the registry office is also able to record, in line with sect. 47(1), sentence 3, number 2, of the Civil Status Act (PStG).

If it is not possible to have an amendment recorded by the registry office, the matter can be taken to the local court. The local court can order the amendment of any information recorded in a finalised entry in the register (sect. 48 PStG), or if the registry office has refused to perform a duty of its office, the local court can instruct the registry office to do so at the request of a private party concerned or the supervising authority (sect. 49 PStG).

Only when the register entry recording the birth is complete in all details can a birth certificate be issued.

Are there any helpful judicial rulings, and where can I find them?

Most of the judicial decisions of relevance to the birth registration relate to the official establishment of the identity of parents. Relevant decisions can be found in the databases of Asyl.net and Juris.de.

Many of the questions raised here are also answered in the DIMR publication Papiere von Anfang an. Das Recht auf eine unverzügliche Geburtenregistrierung nach der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention und seine Durchsetzung, which contains a detailed analysis of the right to birth registration and its implementation in Germany.


What about children born while the mother was fleeing her home country (before she arrived in Germany)?

There is no one definitive answer to this question. Parents in this situation may well need to seek legal advice, because in such cases the answer depends on where the child was born (for instance, in international waters, in an EU member state or outside of the EU). It also depends on the parents’ nationality(-ies), on the child’s present location and on which parent is currently caring for the child. These aspects are relevant for determining which state is responsible for issuing the birth certificate, to which authorities the persons involved should apply and what types of documents and records they may be required to provide.

Where can I go for advice?

The work of the German Institute for Human Rights is based on a mandate defined in the Act on the Legal Status and Mandate of the German Institute for Human Rights (DIMR-Gesetz). Focussed primarily on research and analysis, the mandate does not allow for the provision of advice on individual cases. Thus, the Institute can offer neither legal advice nor psychological counselling, and it does not provide referrals. It functions neither as a complaint mechanism nor as a humanitarian aid organisation. Unfortunately, it cannot take any action in matters concerning the specific situations of private individuals. However, we are always grateful to receive information about cases non-issuance or long delayed issuance of a birth certificate, because reports of this kind help us understand what is happening in this area.

Regardless of whether you notify us or not, though, if you have any questions about your situation, it is important that you consult an advising service or a legal professional that specialises in this area.

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