The Sunday News
For many orphans and less privileged children in Zimbabwe, getting a birth certificate is an out-of-reach dream.
According to the Legal Resources Foundation (2006), a birth certificate is a very important document which shows what all ones names are, where they were born, when they were born and who their parents are. It is required throughout the whole of life including when a child enrols for school or when they apply for a national identity document (ID).
Much research has been conducted on birth registration in Zimbabwe. An estimated 50 percent of Zimbabwean orphans and 95 percent of children living in institutions do not have birth certificates.
A research conducted in the farms of Makoni District by Netherlands Development Agency, showed that 76% of all children are not registered, and that 34% of adults did not have any documents.
There are countless factors which result in children not having birth certificates and one of them is that some children are orphans hence they do not have anyone to register birth certificates for them.
Other factors include lack of funds to travel to registration centres and rigid birth registration processes. Considering the obstacles preventing children from acquiring birth certificates the Government has stepped in and adopted some measures to ensure all children get birth certificates despite the hindrances.
As part of its efforts to promote ensure that all children have birth certificates the Cabinet recently approved the Child Justice Bill, 2020, which will see the establishment of a Child Justice System for children.
In her recent post-Cabinet briefing, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said under the bill a new clause has been incorporated that empowers probation officers to obtain birth certificates for children without parental care.
This move by the Government comes at a time when children without birth certificates are being left behind by global efforts to improve education opportunities for all, as gaps between children with and without birth certificates have increased dramatically in developing countries.
Also, in examining the elements of a child-friendly justice system, including the application of a child rights-based approach for realising access to a child-friendly justice system in Africa, children whose births are not registered and who lack proof of their age are more vulnerable to marginalisation, discrimination, abuse, and associated protection risks such as child marriage, child labour, forced recruitment to armed groups and forces, and trafficking.
These effects of one not having a birth certificate predict a horrendous future for most children without birth certificates hence Government efforts to allow probation officers to acquire birth certificates for children will go a long way in uplifting their lives.
Child rights activists said the recent move by the Government has ushered in new hope among the children without birth certificates. Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support (ROOTS) programs officer and child rights activist Sandra Mzama said: “I predominantly applaud our Government for the recent milestone ruling that probation officers can now obtain birth certificates for children without parental care as this will expedite and the country’s child safeguarding policies which can be argued to have been very passive, at least in action as in most cases traditional ethics and socialization takes precedence to how a child is governed and raised.”
According to Mzama there is an alarming number of children without birth certificates and this situation is not only limited to remote or rural areas but is prevalent in urban setups as well, and this has disadvantaged the children.
“What is really concerning about this retrogressive situation is that it inhibits children from attaining a good education and subsequently employment when they grow up.
“I have also encountered situations where talented children who are gifted in sport or any other recreational activities fail to pursue careers that can sustain their livelihood or can potentially make them rich when they do not have sufficient identification. Especially in mining and farming communities where education levels are low most children have the plight of growing up without birth certificates and the vicious circle continues with their own children breeding a chain of unending poverty,” she said.
She further indicated that, because children without birth certificates are unable to prove their age, they are more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation.
“Neglect and abuse of children has plummeted in recent years owing to the mass exodus both regionally and internationally where children are left at their own mercy with frail grandparents or uncaring distant relatives or caregivers.
Whistleblowers for abuse have become fewer as child abuse is pervasive characteristics of our society. Some may of course, argue and say children nowadays have a lot of rights which have caused erosion of the social moral fibre and created a lawless group of marauding youngsters without a grain of conscience but alas the law is there to protect the vulnerable and even in extreme conservative environments like those that practice Sharia Law, deviants are as common as they are in any other seemingly relaxed surrounding. Therefore, it is highly commendable of the Cabinet to pass through such progressive legislation,” said Mzama.
Former Child Governor and Resident Minister for Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Bonlat Machiha, said Government efforts will grant equal opportunities to all children.
“We are pleased Government will start ensuring that all children acquire birth certificates as this will ensure that all children have the same opportunities. As a former child governor I know the importance of identity documents and the dire situation orphans and vulnerable children face without proper documentation so I applaud the Ministry of Social Welfare for this parental move that they have made,” said Machiha.
Concurring with Mzamo, he said that when children have birth certificates they can realise their right to education, and it will have a lifelong and positive impact on their learning, achievement and employment opportunities, contributing both to their own development as well as to the economic, social and human development of their communities and countries.
“We wish more thoughtful measures like this could be initiated especially to help children living or working in streets,” he added.
Meanwhile, residents across Bulawayo also expressed gratitude for Government’s initiative to allow probation officers to acquire birth certificates in the event that the parent is not available.
Hillary Ncube, a 17-year-old Bulawayo resident said he always wished every child to get a birth certificate so that their lives can be improved.
“I am happy most of the children will now be able to attend school because it’s alarming to note the numerous number of children who could be attending school like me but are deprived of the opportunity because they don’t have a birth certificate,” said Hillary.
While Governments’ efforts in ensuring children get birth certificates are applaudable, more innovative methods for one to acquire a birth certificate are needed to ensure all children acquire birth certificates.