Senate passes Bill to police the registration of births and deaths

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The Upper House of Parliament has given its full support to a Bill that makes it mandatory for health officials to register stillbirths and fetal deaths as well as establishing legal procedures to deal with abandoned children in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Civil Registration (Vital Statistics) Bill, 2020 replaces the Births and Deaths (Registration) Act, which was drafted in 1871.

The old Act, according to legislators in the Senate, no longer meets international standards as it relates to the collection of vital statistics and the creation of records of identity.

The Bill, which was passed recently, also introduces the creation of an electronic database that is meant to track human development in Antigua and Barbuda.

The 2020 Bill also makes changes to the Children (Care and Protection) Act, The Divorce Act and The Marriage Act.

A new column has been added to the Marriage Act, which gives a woman the option of choosing the surname she wishes to use after marriage.

Among other stipulations, the Bill gives parents 30 days in which to notify the state of their newborn, whether the child was born alive or was stillborn.

Each medical practitioner, nurse or midwife who attends at a birth must also give notice of that birth.

Anyone who fails or refuses to give notice commits an offence against the state.

Parents also have up to six months to register the birth of a child or otherwise face a civil penalty of $500.

The Bill also points to specific declarations forms which must be completed by mothers who are not married to the father of their child or children.

The man also has to acknowledge that he is the father or otherwise the name will not be entered.

Where the mother cannot be found or is dead, the father is required to present a declaration form and DNA test results proving that he is in fact the father.

Meanwhile, persons who unlawfully obtain access to the register can be charged up to $1 million and/or face imprisonment for up to 10 years.

There are also penalties for medical practitioners who refuse or neglect to supply a medical certificate when requested.

Those who willfully destroy or forge records could also be fined or serve a prison term of up to five years.

Once gazetted, the Vital Statistics Bill will repeal the Births and Deaths (Registration) Act and will form part of the database for the Civil Registry.

All archived documents will also be transferred from the High Court to the Civil Registry.

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