The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
CHILDREN who were born from March last year to date are reportedly not captured in the national registry as most of them have failed to acquire birth certificates, Sunday News has established.
The situation, brought about by the Covid-19 induced lockdown that was introduced in March last year, has put parents in a dilemma as they cannot include the affected children in most schemes that require birth certificates.
Parents and officials told Sunday News that they have failed to include their children in key policies such as medical aid, funeral policies and acquiring passports, among others, due to the birth certificate dilemma.
When the country introduced lockdown in March last year most social services were suspended for the greater part of the year. Although the offices were later opened, Sunday News has gathered that few people are being served as officials seek to adhere to World Health Organisation protocols in terms of crowd control.
In Bulawayo, registry offices in the city centre and in high-density suburbs are reportedly serving about 20 people per day. It could not be established how many babies are in need of birth certificates, but Mpilo Central Hospital said it delivers between 7 000 and 10 000 births annually.
There are other hospitals and council clinics that also have maternity wings in the city which would push the numbers of newborn babies high. In addition, the country’s ten provinces each have a number of health facilities with maternity wings and some mothers in remote areas reportedly deliver from home.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), in 2015 alone, 540 000 babies were born in the country. Acting Registrar General Mr Henry Machiri told Sunday News that although he did not have the numbers at hand, there was a huge backlog of people seeking to acquire birth certificates for their children.
“We have opened our offices for birth, death and National Identity registrations for the public. We are inviting all parents whose children were born during this pandemic to go and do the registrations. We are ensuring that we are serving them within the Covid-19 regulations. We do not want crowds at the offices, we want to ensure there is social distancing but we are assisting them,” said Mr Machiri.
He said his office was in the process of clearing the backlog and was not limiting numbers to 20 per station as claimed by residents in Bulawayo.
“It’s not 20 people per day. We are ensuring that we do not have crowds, we can serve even 500 people per day but those 500 tend to crowd which is against Covid-19 regulations. Remember all gatherings are limited to 30 and 50 people respectively. But seeing that we do not know the actual figure of people affected, if we limit them to 20 per day, we will not catch up,” he said.
Justice for Children Trust programmes manager Mr John Mhlanga said it was worrying that the effected children cannot access a lot of benefits that come with acquiring birth certificates.
“It has also been a concern for us. We made an urgent Chamber Application in September 2020 to the High Court to compel the Government to open the registry office and also declare them as an essential service provider that could operate during the lockdown. We did this because access to a birth certificate is a Constitutional right. The moment a child fails to access that document, it means all other rights that follow cannot be enjoyed,” he said.
Mr Mhlanga said children born during the pandemic have failed to access other services because they do not have birth certificates.
“We have situations where children are failing to access health care because when their parents want to include them on their medical aid schemes, they need to produce a birth certificate but because they don’t have, they cannot be part of the scheme. At the same time, these children should be part of funeral insurance services and other policies of their parents, but because they do not have birth certificates, they cannot be part of the services,” he said.
However, Mr Machiri said while there were delays for the children to access birth certificates, the law in Zimbabwe allows children to acquire the document for free between zero and six years.
“If a child was born last year they are still within, even two years from now they will not pay anything. Parents must take this opportunity to register their children, do not wait until a child is about to start Grade One and you want to get a birth certificate, you will be under pressure. Life is unpredictable, deaths occur anytime, when you fail to register a child on time there are challenges that occur besides Covid-19.
When a parent dies before acquiring a birth certificate for their child, the department will require additional documentation and witnesses to enable that child to be registered, but this can be avoided if registrations are done on time,” said Mr Machiri.
He added that it was a basic human right for any child to get a birth certificate which facilitates their entrance to school which is also another basic human right. Disputes among parents and families, he added, have also contributed to delays in some children accessing birth certificates.
“The disputes that we have (as parents) must not affect children, in some instances feuding families demand payments before a child takes their father’s surname. So, such issues affect access to birth certificates which are basic rights. We have noted that there are physically and mentally challenged children who do not have birth certificates, but they have the same rights as able bodied children.
We have cases of mentally challenged people who are over 30 years of age who never got birth certificates. All children despite their disability must be registered. We have equal rights as citizens of Zimbabwe,” said Mr Machiri.