Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting the Indian Birth Certificate

I've previously written about getting our baby's exit Visa and also getting his passport. The birth certificate precedes these, and is the step that we found most interesting.

In Indian surrogacy births, the names of the genetic or intended parents are currently put on the Indian birth certificate. There has been some discussion about whether it is legal to put anything other than the gestational carrier's name on the birth certificate, particularly from one of the Mumbai IVF facilities that does not offer surrogacy. While I'm not a lawyer, several things seem certain. First, with the Baby Manji case, India's courts have tacitly acknowledged and accepted surrogacy. Second, the hospitals are putting the genetic/intended parents names on the birth certificates today, and have been for many years. That being said, India is also developing its own legislation on surrogacy, called the ICMR Guidelines. While these haven't been adopted yet (as of Nov 2009), as currently drafted they will explicitly allow the genetic/intended parents names to be put on the birth certificate. Until these are passed, current practice may be a bit of a gray area legally.

Of course, you need the baby's name for the birth certificate. Because our baby was born 5 weeks early, we hadn't selected a name yet. The passport is dependent on having a birth certificate. And the exit visa is dependent on having a passport. So, every days delay in getting the birth certificate, is a days delay in going home.

In the week we were deciding on a name, we also investigated how to get the birth certificate quickly. Getting the baby's birth certificate from the BMC in Mumbai is supposed to take 21 days. Except that it's India, so sometimes the 21 days is reputed to stretch longer - we heard numbers like six weeks. Unfortunately, there is no official "expedited" service. Since it's India, the expedited services are unofficial and seem to require paying "chai pani", which is literally translated as "tea money", but more realistically described as a facilitating payment or bribe.

The Birth Certificate is issued once the local municipality receives the registration of the baby's birth from the hospital. In Mumbai, birth certificates are issued by the the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, also known as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, or BMC. At Hirinandani, on the day the baby is born, you will be asked to fill out a form in a giant book. This is the form submitted to the BMC for the birth certificate. Fill it out in capital letters and clearly - anything that causes confusion will delay the birth certificate. It is useful to get or make a copy of the form in case the BMC makes a mistake and you need to get the birth certificate corrected.

At the hospital, I had a conversation with one of the Indian women who had recently given birth and explained that, in our situation, we really wanted to get the birth certificate more quickly than the documented 21 days. We talked about the Indian concept of "chai pani". I asked her if you can just directly ask someone "So, how much chai pani do I have to pay in order to get this accelerated?" She laughed and said this would be far too direct, offend the person you were speaking to, and likely ruin any chances to get the document accelerated. Apparently, the correct approach is to ask "is there anything we can do to make this go faster" and listen for an opening that would suggest a small payment would help. Without having dealt with the BMC specifically, but with knowledge of Indian culture, she thought a typical accelerating payment for a birth certificate would be 100 or 500 Rupees. Although she did agree that a foreigner might be asked for more.

Most intended parents don’t go to the BMC directly, but rather work through a facilitator. We spoke to the public affairs department at the Hirinandani hospital, who can also arrange for a speedier birth certificate. They unofficially work through a third party agent, who charges 5,000 Rupees. He doesn't guarantee a delivery date and the public affairs folks said they were just passing along his charges. When asked whether we could get a receipt, the public affairs officer said we could not. (It's quite unclear who actually receives various cuts of this payment).

Our other choice was to work with Dilip, who has worked with other surrogate couples to facilitate the birth certificate process. He quoted us 3,000 Rupees and also 1 week to get the birth certificate.

So, we found that our choices to get a birth certificate came down to:

1. Go through the public relations officer at the hospital. At Hirinandani, the public relations office was working with through a service that charged 5,000 Rupees (Aug 2009). No guarantee on how long it would take to get the birth certificate (maybe a week), but quicker than doing it manually.

2. Go through a service/person who knows the process. Many have used Dilip, who was recently (August) charging 3,000 Rupees.

3. Go to the local municipal office (in Mumbai, the BMC) and go through the process yourself, either waiting the 21 days (or longer) or attempting to pay “chai pani” oneself.

For both options 1 and 2, we were requested to write a letter to the BMC requesting an accelerated birth certificate. The hospital’s public relations office provided us the template to follow.

We chose option 2 - Dilip - since it was cheaper, the hospitals relationship with their service provider was "unofficial", and other folks we knew had also worked with Dilip. We gave him the letter on a Tuesday, saying we'd need the paperwork by the following Tuesday for our Wednesday meeting at the consulate. He said a week was "no problem" and thought he might have the birth certificates as early as Friday.

Being India, Dilip called the following Tuesday telling us the birth certificates weren't ready, and that we should go to the consulate Wednesday anyway, and drop them off later. This, of course, pretty much defeats the purpose of going to the consulate. In our case, we had already delayed our meeting with the consulate for another couple days, so late delivery of the birth certificates wasn't a problem. Dilip delivered the birth certificates the next day, which was eight days from our original request.

Our advice:
1) Make sure you write all information very clearly on the hospital birth registration form and on the letter to the BMC so that the birth certificate is not printed incorrectly. It's an even bigger bureaucratic hassle to get it fixed.
2) Make copies of the hospital registration form and the letter you send so that if there is an error, you can prove it wasn't yours.
3) Don't ever base your plans on when you expect to get the birth certificate. Our experience is that India has not yet learned to “under-promise and over-deliver”, rather you are more likely to get “over-promised and under-delivered”. Leave some buffer time, you may need it.

(A version of this post, retitled The Indian Birth Certificate, is included as part of the India Surrogacy Guide at Please leave comments if there is more to learn based on your experience.)