M S Siddiqui
Name is the most important possession of an individual that identifies him or her. We are all known, identified and represented by our names. And there should no mistake in spelling and pronunciation of the name of a person which is determined by parents or relatives who christen him or her or the person himself or herself. Usually, each and every name has a meaning. The name differs according to culture, creed, religion, language etc.
Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international charter spelling out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the children, states '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.' Bangladesh ratified the Convention in early 1990s. It is a legally binding instrument for Bangladesh now.
The citizens of Bangladesh have an inclination to name the child after meaningful words available in the holy Quran, with first name being Mohammad, signifying the person is a follower of Phophet Mohammad (SM). Muslims are most probably the only religious community having the most of their first names after their holy prophet. Thus a highest number of the world population today have Mohammad as the first name. There may be some regional or cultural deviation but the name indicates the religious faith and identity of the person carrying the name.
In most of the western culture, the given name precedes the family name while in some other cultures they place it after the family name, or use no family name al all. Usually, family name is the name used by all members of a family.
Hindu community have their name indicating the status of their cast and profession. There are some Muslims who use family name before or after the given name. According to religious faith, all Muslims have the equal status in the society and to the almighty, although some of the Muslims are proud of their family names, claiming aristocracy or higher status.
The birth registration with relevant departments is the first official acknowledgment of the child's existence by state. Until recent past, Bangladesh was governed by a registration law called The Birth and Death Registration Act 1873 which was framed in colonial British times, though its actual implementation was almost non-existent; or we may say registration of birth and death under the law was rather optional.
In December 2004, the Parliament of Bangladesh promulgated the Birth and Death Registration Act 2004 and forwarded the same to the Ministry of Local Government to prepare detailed modalities and implementation procedures and asked them to issue a Gazette notification in this regard.
UNICEF, the UN children's agency, supported the Ministry of Local Government to prepare detailed modalities and procedures, giving technical support to the concerned government departments to enable them to provide better and accurate birth registration service to the citizens. It is expected that efficient birth registration modalities should enable parents and guardians to easily get their children's birth registered in a proper and timely manner. Besides, UNICEF and other NGOs like Plan Bangladesh also supported the Ministry of Local Government to develop a public awareness campaign on birth registration and child rights.
The government declared 3rd July 2006 as Birth Registration Day to highlight the importance of birth registration for every child and adult in the country. This is part of the national strategy to achieve Universal Birth Registration in line with the Births and Deaths Registration Act which entered into force in 2004.
The Births and Deaths Registration Act provided for free birth registration for all persons born in Bangladesh up to 2 July 2008. According to the Act, birth certificates would be compulsory to obtain access to sixteen essential services such as issuance of passports, marriage registration and admission to educational institutions etc.
Bangladesh Election Commission has already issued national ID cards to more than 80 million voters or 100 percent of the adults and 52 percent of the total population. Unfortunately they issued ID cards on the basis of filled application forms without any supporting documents, although as per birth registration act the voter or national ID cards should be in line with birth registration. The concern may be not violation of law but the probable confusion with regard to different data in two important documents.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), only one out of 10 children under 5 had been registered in 2006. Recent report from the Local Government Division shows that 40 percent of the total population had received a birth certificate by the end of March 2008. The government's objective is to lift this figure substantially, with support from development partners such as UNICEF and Plan Bangladesh.
For many years and unfortunately till date, the SSC certificate was considered as a valid document for name and date of birth of a person, despite the existence of the Birth Registration Act of 2004 as per rule and convention. As per government service rules, the first declaration to the government or certificate issued by local government are the valid document on name and date of birth for any government servant who have no educational certificate to confirm his/her name and date of birth.
We are now passing through a transition period of having three documents for certifying names and birthdays. Those are Secondary School Certificate, Voter ID and Birth Certificate from such local bodies like Union Parishad, municipal bodies of corporations. As per law, the birth certificate prevail above all and the other two documents such as educational certificate and the national ID cards should be issued on the basis of the birth certificate issued by the local government. In other words, the birth certificate issued by the local government should have supremacy over other documents. We shall wait to abide by the Birth Registration Act until all citizens obtain their birth registration and all concerned authorities accept the birth registration as the only valid document of our identity. We need more awareness of the law and the rules.
Recently, the Finance Ministry issued an instruction not to allow any banking transaction without national ID cards and now the banks are not willing to let anybody open a bank account without the national ID card. The registration office is also refusing land registration in favor of anyone who does out possess the national ID card.
The voter registration or ID cards was issued on the basis of application forms filled in by the citizens and not on basis of registered birth certificate. There is a proposal so that national ID cards are accepted as documents of personal details. There is a probability that this will result in a confusion with regard to the law and rules followed by different authorities.
The citizens of Bangladesh are not much aware of documents and in most of the cases the spelling of name is very much different in different documents, particularly three instruments, namely education certificate, national ID card and birth certificate. This situation affects most of us, specially when applying for visa and going through immigration formalities at any US or European embassy or High Commission.
The situation will be further worse very soon since the Birth Registration Act and other rules and regulation issued by different departments and organizations making ID cards and birth certificates are made mandatory for enjoying certain rights and privileges as citizen. There will be huge legal battle among citizens and different government and other organizations. Hence, there is an urgent need for changing names and other data to currect and make the documents uniform.
At present, there is a system to change the name by affidavit in front of a Magistrate or Notary Public and posting a notice about the change in newspapers.
For many years, the Boards of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education have their own rules for changing name of a person. They don't accept affidavit and also they are not willing to accept any change of name truly, but only agree to amend or correct minor mistakes. They usually ask for some documents, but not the birth certificate from local government. This is a major problem since the Secondary School Certificate still prevails as a valid document for ascertaining some one's name and age.
A woman usually have one maiden name before her marriage and then have a new name after her marriage (though not mandatory), adding the family name of her husband. This often creates problem while dealing with foreign embassies or while to get admission in a foreign university. The laws and rules should have answer to all such probable problems.
Some individuals often decide to change their names. And any change in name is a basic legal act that is recognized in practically all the legal systems to allow an individual the opportunity to adopt a new name other than the name given at birth, marriage, or adoption. The procedures for doing that depend on the country or jurisdiction that person resides in. In general, common law jurisdictions like in UK or New Zealand have rather minimum limitations on name change while civil law jurisdictions are quite restrictive. The change of name under common law is "at will".
State laws in US can regulate name changes and still, they do not yet forbid easy procedure of common law name changes. Several specific federal court rulings have set precedents regarding both court decreed name changes and common law name changes. This at will right is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Fourteenth Amendment of constitution. The US federal courts have overwhelmingly ruled that changing one's name at will, by common law, is clearly one's constitutional right. Nonetheless, one may still choose to have a court issued name change.
The applicant may be required to give a somewhat reasonable explanation for wanting to change his/her name. A fee is generally payable, and the applicant may be required to post legal notices in newspapers to announce the name change. Generally the judge has judicial discretion to grant or deny a change of name, especially if the name change is for "frivolous" or "immoral" purposes. Under federal immigration and nationality law, when aliens apply for naturalization, they have the option of asking for their names to be changed upon the grant of citizenship with no additional fees. The right to change name is a universal human right and there is no restriction in any country of the world although the procedure may be different.
The Birth and Death Registration Act 2004 has provision of correction of registration book under section 15 against certain fees by appropriate authorities. Under section 18, the birth and death certificates shall be used in office, court, school, college and in other government and private organizations. These certificate will be treated as a public document as per The Evidence Act, 1872. The 3rd sub-section also specified the name of important documents like Passport, Marriage certificate, driving license, Voter ID, land registration and other documents should be as per birth certificate under this law. This has retrospective effect for the citizens born before enactment of the law.
The law does not specify the fee and appropriate authority for change of records or amendment of name or other information in the records as well as birth certificate. There is a necessity of issue of a rule or regulation from the Ministry of local government in this regard.
It appears that Secondary School Certificate issued by Boards of Education is no more a valid document for name, age or any other purpose. Due to retrospective effect of the law, all other documents like Passport, educational certificate etc. should be amended on the basis of birth certificate issued by local government under the Birth and Death Registration Act 2004.
The rule set by educational boards to scrutinize the application and call for interview to change the content of certificate like name and others information is not valid in the eye of law. There should be a clear guideline from the government to minimise the complications suffering of the citizens. This is the crying need of the time.
A guest teacher of Leading University, the writer can be reached at