Registration of Births and Deaths Bill – Speech by Leon Perera

Delivered in Parliament on 5 July 2021

Mr Speaker sir, the new Registration of Births and Deaths Act is an improved framework that overhauls and streamlines the registration of the two events that book-end every human life, as it were – births and deaths. It provides clear rules on who holds the responsibility to report to the government in the event of birth or death, under a wide range of foreseeable scenarios.

While I support the Bill, I have a few clarifications to seek.

Birth registrations – surnames and double-barrelled surnames

Firstly, in respect of birth registrations, I would like to confirm that double-barrelled surnames are allowed and provided for under the new Act and its processes.

In the current Registration of Births and Deaths Act, Section 10 (“Surname of child”) provides guidance on how a child’s surname is given, although there is no explicit reference to double-barrelled surnames. Currently, parents are able to register their child with a double-barrelled surname if they chose to do so.

However, under the new Act, there is no longer any reference to “surname”. Could the Minister give us some guidance on the surnames that would be permissible for the child?

Birth registrations – double-barrelled race designation

Secondly, I would like to speak on double-barrelled race designations.

With inter-ethnic marriages going up from 18.4% of all marriages in 2009 to 22.9% in 2019, it is important for children of such unions to have the opportunity to grow up with an appreciation of their mixed parentage, if their parents choose signify that by choosing double-barrelled race classifications for their children. As a parent of children of mixed ethnicity, I am conscious of this.

In 2011, ICA implemented the registration of double-barrelled race options for Singaporean children born to parents of different ethnic groups. By this new option, if one parent is Chinese and the other is Indian, the child’s race may be recorded as “Chinese”, “Indian” “Indian-Chinese” or “Chinese-Indian”, for example.

In this respect, I wonder if the Registry of Births and Deaths is able to provide some indications on trends – in similar fashion to what is reported on marriages – on the proportion of births to parents of different ethnicities. And amongst them, what is the proportion of children who have been assigned double-barrelled race by their parents? I note that in the first two months of 2011, the parents of one in five newborn babies of mixed parentage chose the double-barreled race option, based on data that the government released back then.

I also wonder if the Ministry would consider streamlining the process by which parents of mixed ethnicity can apply to change the racial classification on their child’s NRIC to a double-barrelled racial classification in cases where the child was registered at birth as bearing solely one ethnicity, as they would have had to be prior to 2011. Anecdotally, it would appear that both parents need to visit ICA for a physical interview in order to effect this change. Could the parents be enabled to provide their consent digitally or via a virtual meeting, for example?

Furthermore, the “Chinese-Indian” example given by ICA in their website falls within the CMIO framework. Is it also possible to assign double-barrelled race classifications to a child in Singapore that is outside the CMIO framework? For example, Chinese-Burmese or Korean-Vietnamese? Like surnames, there appear to be no explicit rules in respect of designation of race of the child in the new Bill.

Birth registrations – names in ethnic characters

Next, ICA states in their website that it currently includes the option for parents to include ethnic characters of the child’s name in Chinese, Jawi, or Tamil. Given the increasing ethnic diversity in our demographic make-up, will the ICA also be open to requests for other ethnic characters too? Moreover, if the child is of mixed ethnicity, will they also be given the option to have their name spelled out in two sets of ethnic characters?

Death registrations – time considerations

From the subject of births, I shall now move to the subject of deaths – as, in reality, we all eventually do in life.

I understand that obtaining the Death Certificate is essential for identification and authentication purposes before some funeral services can be provided for the deceased.

At present, the next-of-kin would have to express the preferred mode of disposal – cremation or burial – when they register the death. The next-of-kin would then receive a Permit to Bury/ Cremate contained in the Death Certificate. Based on that, a funeral director would then be able to proceed to book slots for cremation or burial.

A Death Certificate may also be required to engage a funeral director in order for services such as the embalming of bodies and the use of funeral parlour compounds to be performed.

Would the new Bill inadvertently bring about delays in the funeral arrangements in some cases, especially if the death occurs at home and the medical practitioner would need to return to his office to register the death and he or she could possibly be delayed in performing that action – by the need to attend to other medical cases, for example? There is a 24-hour time restriction for the medical practitioner to report a death. But when making funeral arrangements, a matter of hours can cause inconvenience and emotional distress. I would like to ask the Ministry how this issue would be managed.

On a separate but not unrelated note, I would also like to ask if funeral service providers were consulted in the course of formulating this Bill.

Death registrations – provisions for relatives who are not digitally savvy to access the Death Certificate in a time-sensitive manner

Next, I would like to clarify how relatives who are not digitally savvy will be able to receive the Death Certificate once it is issued. Relatives need this Death Certificate in order to commence funeral preparations, and in their state of grief, they may be anxious to obtain it as soon as possible. I understand that the new system allows for the process to be performed online, and a digital notification will be sent to the relative to download the digital Death Certificate from the government’s online portal when it is ready.

However, there may be cases, admittedly perhaps not too many, where none of the relatives of the deceased who are planning the funeral are IT-literate. Would provisions be made in such cases to enable the relatives to collect a physical copy of the Death Certificate at a location that is nearby? Alternatively, will the relative be able to enlist the help of a funeral director, for example, to access the digital death certificate on their behalf, if they give their consent?

Death registrations – not surrendering Personal Identification Card after death may result in potential misuse of identity for the deceased without next-of-kin

Lastly, under this Bill, I also note that there is no longer a need to surrender the deceased person’s identification card for invalidation. However, the Bill highlights that the family should destroy the IC to prevent abuse.

Based on feedback from the funeral service industry, funeral directors often come to possess the NRIC of a deceased person. Some funeral service providers may accumulate many such NRIC cards over time, and this creates the potential for criminal use to be made of these cards if they fall into the wrong hands. In view of this, will the government require all funeral service providers and any unrelated persons in possession of physical NRIC cards of deceased persons to destroy these cards?

Thank you.