The Evolution of Birth Registration and its Place in Contemporary Law and Society

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Abstract


Birth registration, especially the birth certificate, is consistently framed as something which encompasses a person’s (biogenetic) ‘origins’. This framing has become especially pronounced in recent years following a resurgence in the importance placed on blood ties and biogenetic connections in forming a family. Developments within assisted reproduction and trans pregnancy have only exacerbated these types of discussions. It is in this light that there have been calls for the birth registration system to be reformed to adequately document an individual's (biogenetic) origins. Such literature sometimes positions the birth registration system as having only been introduced for the purpose of locating one’s origins, or that this has always been a primary aim. Similar arguments have found weight in parliamentary debates and case law. These arguments subsequently exude a ‘common sense’ understanding of the birth certificate: that it should always document one’s biogenetic progenitors, and hence one’s origins. However, to say the birth registration system was enacted for this purpose is historically (and sometimes legally) inaccurate. As such, this article aims to set the record straight with regards to the purpose of birth registration which was introduced as a way to help with property transmission. It is important to do this because understandings of the birth certificate as (re)producing origins and family, rooted in blood and biogenetics, inevitably sustains cis-heteronormative constructions of family and connectedness, meaning ‘non-traditional’ families find it hard (even impossible) to gain legal recognition and protection. Far from advocating for a bar on individuals locating their origins, this article instead historically contextualises the birth registration system and suggests that, in assuming it is a place to see one’s origins, and assuming this has always been its purpose, we are using the birth registration system for purposes it was not intended.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021
EventSociety of Legal Scholars Annual Conference - University of Durham, Durham
Duration: 31 Aug 20213 Sep 2021


ConferenceSociety of Legal Scholars Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleSLS 2021


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