Birth registration is a fundamental right for all children, as outlined in Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Article 6 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), which both state the right of every child to a name, identity and nationality, which should be granted at birth. The Zimbabwe Child Rights Coalition acknowledges efforts by the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the right to birth registration is realized for all children in the country. The Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013 gives effect to prompt provision of birth certificates to children in sections 81(1)(b) and (c) giving rights to a name and prompt provision of a birth certificate respectively. Zimbabwe’s Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1986 (BDR Act) provides assurance by the state in terms of birth registration provision. A birth registration affords a child proof of their name, nationality and provides that they are not rendered stateless. Birth registration is paramount in provision of health, education, social and protection services for all children.
In recent developments, the Zimbabwe Child Rights Coalition applauds the Government of Zimbabwe for taking the initiative to conduct a national mobile registration exercise for civil documentation from April to September 2022. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced recently that at least 2 million Zimbabweans should receive birth certificates, national identity documents and other related documentation to close the backlog that the Ministry has regarding providing civil documentation to the nation. We applaud the government for giving fathers of children born out of a marriage union legal right to acquire birth certificates for their children where the birth mothers cannot be found or become unavailable to do this. This is indeed a progressive move which not only treats parents of children equally but ensures the best interests of the child are paramount.
However, we note with concern continued barriers to birth registration for children in Zimbabwe. According to the World Bank, completeness of birth registration in Zimbabwe as at 2019 was recorded as 48.7%. Completeness of birth registration is the percentage of children under age 5 whose births were registered. This data indicates that just about half the children under the age of 5 are not registered. To corroborate these figures, as at 21 August 2020, The Herald reported that the country had a backlog of 200 000 birth certificates. In the same report, the Civil Registry Department was on record indicating that the country receives about 400 000 births annually. The implication is that half the children born in Zimbabwe are not documented. Emergencies such as Cyclone Idai in 2019, the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020 and other disasters have further compounded the situation.
The causes for non-registration are varied and include observations that the Civil Registry Department’s requirements being too strict and rigid, especially for those that have complicated cases emerging from lost documents, missing relatives or children born outside parental care. In remote areas of our country, this is further compounded by the long investment in time through travelling to the nearest district or provincial centre and the long queues which discourage and demotivates parents and guardians to register their children. In urgent scenarios such as the need for the child to sit for public examinations, get enrolled in school or access healthcare parents and guardians have been observed to desperately seek birth registration.
In other instances, it can be argued that there is an apparent lack of interest by parents or guardians to register children, maybe, as a result of limited information on the importance of such documents. As such, the legal requirements of birth registration are unknown or generally misunderstood. This might explain why in urban centres greater rates of registration are common as compared to rural areas. As noted earlier the provincial or district centres are still very far away from most people which reduces access to services and becomes a disincentive to register births to some. Though there are suboffices of the Civil Registry Department in the country’s districts, these are still far from the community, and provide limited services. In light of this, it can be argued that children born in hospitals have a greater chance of being registered than those delivered at home. It is against this background that the veracity of mobile registrations cannot be overemphasized in ensuring that those previously unregistered children are documented. This contributes to reduced costs of traveling for parents and guardians.
The Zimbabwe Child Rights Coalition recommends the following:
- More mobile and other forms of community awareness and information dissemination are necessary. The Registrar General’s Office should make concerned efforts to ensure public awareness on the current mobile civil documentation blitz .
- There is need to encourage and plan for more organized and systematic mobile registration campaigns (in terms of timing and regularity).
- It is recommended that birth certificates be issued at places of birth i.e. hospitals or major clinics.
Birth registration legislation and related acquisition laws need to be reformed in order to be more sensitive and responsive to community realities.
- Coordination between the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Home Affairs, and other relevant government departments to prioritize birth registration of minors, as this would ensure greater numbers of children getting registered at birth, including those delivered in homes.
- The clause on compulsory registration of children needs to be supported by enabling instruments that can help to enforce it.
- Support to ensuring that vulnerable groups of children and persons have access to birth registration including children with disabilities, children in residential care facilities, children in refugee settlements and children living and working on the streets and those affected by disasters.