Danai Chirawu Correspondent
It is every child’s right to have their existence recorded and accounted for, to get an identity and to have that identity registered.
Giving a child a name is essentially introducing them to the world and it is necessary to formalise this introduction through birth registration.
There are many children and adults living in Zimbabwe with no birth certificates and this is a problematic reality.
Failing or neglecting to register a child’s identity has far-reaching consequences that not only affect that child, but will affect children that they too may have in the future.
The Constitution in Section 81 (1) (b) states that; “Every child, that is to say every boy and girl under the age of 18 years has the right to be given a name and family name.”
A notice of birth should be given to the Registrar at the nearest birth and death registration office in your district within 42 days and where there was a stillbirth, such a notice should be done as soon as possible or within 30 days. Birth registration is therefore important and beneficial because;
a) It allows a child easy access to education
Without a birth certificate, a child cannot be enrolled into a government school and cannot write national examinations.
It is a prerequisite that when parents are looking to enrol their child in a government school for Grade One, they should produce the child’s birth certificate.
The fact that some schools may relax this rule and allow parents to apply using the baby health card does not take away from the importance of procuring a birth certificate for your child.
Often, children without birth certificates have to resort to applying to private schools.
The problem will still follow this same child when they are in Grade Seven and waiting to write their Zimsec examinations.
These examinations from primary to secondary school stage are only reserved for people whose births are registered.
The inconvenience further extends to the child’s ability to benefit from the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) government fund which caters for vulnerable children who cannot afford to pay for school and examination fees and levies. Not obtaining a birth certificate for a child can quite possibly rob a child of their ability to gain an education.
b) Social services
As has already been mentioned, without a birth certificate; a child will be ineligible to receive aid from the BEAM fund.
This also extends to the child’s ability to benefit from social services and food aid.
In the event that families are receiving food through social service, only those children whose names are recorded and can prove their authenticity through producing a birth certificate will receive food.
This already reflects the importance of registering one’s name particularly in the event where these children are either orphans or have been left in the custody of their grandparents, other relatives or live in child headed homes. Without any formal identity these children are not recognised as being fit to benefit from social services.
c) Legal rights and protection
For a child to be recognised as a beneficiary to an estate there has to be evidence that they are indeed a child of the deceased person.
A birth certificate is generally taken as utmost proof of that kind of relationship.
With a birth certificate, the Master can easily ascertain whether or not a person stands to benefit from a deceased estate (this only applies to an intestate estate meaning that the deceased died without writing a will).
There are, however, many instances where the child is given their mother’s maiden name especially where the child is born out of wedlock.
In those instances, there is need to prove that although the child was not given their father’s surname, they are indeed a child of the deceased.
This is done by producing affidavits from the deceased’s relatives attesting to the relationship between the deceased and the child in question. Because there is no age limit on which a child is qualified to benefit from a deceased estate, the same is required for a child of the deceased who is over the age of 18.
There are more instances where a child who does not have any national identification may be prejudiced. For a person to be convicted of having sexual intercourse with a minor there is need to prove that the victim in question is actually a minor.
As I have already mentioned, a birth certificate is a premise upon which one can prove their name and age. If the case is to be argued in court based on technicalities alone, the fact that there is no actual proof of the child’s age may actually weaken the state case.
Even for the crime of rape, particularly if the act is alleged to have been perpetrated against a minor, it is necessary to use the child’s birth certificate to prove that the victim in question is an actual child.
d) Rights of future descendants
For a parent to be able to procure a birth certificate for their child, they must produce a national identification card.
For one to be the holder of such a document, they should have a birth certificate first. The parent not having any national identification incapacitates them from being able to give their child their right to a name and a family name.
They create a cycle of people exiting as aliens and having their freedoms limited. One cannot obtain a passport without a birth certificate which means that they cannot leave the country legally.
That presumption already brings to the fore many issues surrounding illegal immigrants. On a national scale, a person who is not the holder of a birth certificate cannot obtain a driver’s licence.
Their freedom of movement is already infringed the moment the parent neglects to obtain a birth certificate on their behalf. One cannot emphasise enough the importance of having formal birth registration because without it a person has neither a name nor an identity.
Now that we have established some of the essential reasons why birth registration is important, it is necessary to outline how one can register their child’s birth.
The first example is where a child is born out of wedlock and the father of the child has refused to accept paternity meaning that he alleges that he is not the father; the mother of the child can still register the child in her own surname.
This can also include situations where the father is simply negligent and does not want to register the child’s birth. Many women are reluctant to give their children their own surnames because of the socio-cultural implications of a child not having a father’s last name.
While it may be a difficult emotional endeavour for some women it is still an important decision to give a notice of birth within 42 days of giving birth. All the other fears about the child not being named after his paternal clan are outweighed by the consequences of not having a birth certificate as was indicated earlier.
The child’s birth record from the hospital or maternity home where they were born is essential when registering.
The birth record should be accompanied by parents’ national identification cards, a marriage certificate or a death certificate where necessary.
Where the birth was undertaken by a midwife, the parent registering the birth should bring a certificate signed by the midwife attesting to have conducted the delivery.
In other instances where the child was neither born in a clinic, hospital nor delivered by a mid-wife, a declaration should be made in the prescribed form stating that no medical practitioner or midwife was present during the birth, this is accompanied by an affidavit by a witness who was present during the delivery.
It is not enough to only account for birth registration done by the child’s biological parents. Sometimes, the child is orphaned, abandoned and has no birth certificate.
In the event that the child is abandoned, it shall be the duty of whoever has found the child as long as they are above the age of 18 to give notice of the child’s birth to the Registrar. The date when such a child is generally unknown but it will be sufficient enough to offer as much information as possible to the Registrar.
There are other instances where the father of the child has died before the child’s birth certificate is attained.
The mother should be accompanied by the father’s relatives so that they can confirm that the deceased is truly the father in the event that the child was born out of wedlock or the parents were customarily married.
Where the mother of the child under these same circumstances has died, the father can simply go with a death certificate, national ID and the child’s birth record.
There is no need to be in the company of the mother’s relatives. This may not be simple where the child has lost both parents if one is left to be the custodian parent to children whose births have no blueprint and they were not present to witness such births.
In the absence of a birth record, it shall suffice to have affidavits of different relatives confirming that these children were actually born in Zimbabwe or are Zimbabwean by descent.
In the event that the children are left in the custody of the grandparents, the grandparents or relatives taking care of the children should produce a birth record or witness to the birth, marriage certificate of the children of the parents if they were married under general law and death certificates if they are available.
Because there are adults who do not have birth certificates, it is possible to register someone’s birth after they have turned eighteen. The adult needs to give evidence to prove their year of birth and circumstances surrounding the delivery. One can produce a certificate of baptism, two witnesses (which may include a headmaster from a previous school, parents or relatives). School records and an affidavit from previous employers can also be used as evidence thereof.
There are some very complex but very realistic situations where the children were abandoned and there is no evidence of when and how they were conceived.
It is generally difficult to prove that they qualify to be registered as citizens by either birth or descent. In those circumstances, the guardian or the adult in need of registering their birth should go to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.
The director in your district has the power to conduct an inquiry on the circumstances surrounding the birth and will decide whether the reasons for not having any record of the birth are compelling enough. After the inquiry is done the director will write a letter to the Registrar either agreeing or disputing to the birth registration as a citizen of Zimbabwe.
It is important to remember that not registering one’s children’s birth robs them of their freedom of movement and right to a name among other rights which are easily accessible to a person whose birth has been formally registered.
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