Birth certificate concern in rural Matabeleland – Scores fail to access Covid-19 relief funds
Mthabisi Tshuma, Features Correspondent
SOME rural folk in Zimbabwe remain excluded from social amenities due to the lack of official identity documents.
Birth registration allows one to enjoy a lot of other rights such as the right to education, health, social assistance among others.
However, with the Covid-19 pandemic many have failed to access relief from the Government as they do not have identity documents.
According to experts, destitution is the most common reason why some children across the country do not have birth certificates, years after they are conceived.
Obliviousness about children’s privileges and social convictions are additionally referred to as the other reasons why some of them grow into adulthood with no birth declarations.
It has likewise been said that a number of children don’t have birth declarations on the grounds that their parents don’t have identification documents themselves. This is the case with 68-year-old Ms Theresa Ndlovu and her four children among them Mr Jabulani Ndlovu.
Ms Ndlovu and her son both live in Village 10, Vulindlela Ward in Bulilima District.
The area is part of Dombodema where during the colonial era, many blacks who settled there worked for the whites.
After the country attained independence in 1980, most chose to remain settled in the area which has hardly developed over the years. As a result, many have not bothered finding ways of obtaining identity documents.
Birth registration is considered one of the most important rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
In terms of section 81(1)(c) of the Constitution, every child whether born in or outside Zimbabwe has a right to prompt issuance of a birth certificate.
In terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act [Chapter 5:02] of 1986, births should be registered within 42 days of a child’s birth and at the latest before the expiry of 12 months.
Birth certificates are not only important in proving who the child is but they also help when registering important life events such as adoptions and even obtaining other documents such as passports and national identity cards.
Birth registration is a right yet recent statistics contained in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development’s Zimbabwe (2016-2018) Interim Poverty Reduction strategy paper (I-PRSP) show that about 2,4 million children under the age of 17 years, translating to 39 percent of minors in the country, do not have birth certificates.
Narrating her ordeal Ms Ndlovu said she is hunger-stricken and cannot be assisted by the Government as she has no birth certificate.
“It’s a devastating period for me and my family as we are poverty stricken and cannot be assisted anyhow. The whole family of five has no birth certificates and all this is because as their mother I don’t have one either.
“With regards to the pandemic, some households have received a cushioning allowance from the Government through the social welfare but for me and my children, it’s a sad story to tell,” said Ms Ndlovu.
Another villager Mr Thamsanqa Msimanga concurred saying there is need to fast track the issuing of birth certificates.
“Covid-19 has increased our poverty and as people in rural areas, we’re the worst affected in light of the issue that we don’t have birth certificates. We are now starving,” said Mr Msimanga.
Bulilima West MP Cde Dingumuzi Phuti called for unity from various stakeholders in addressing the issue.
“I’m calling for unity of purpose in pushing this great agenda of our time, the agenda of respecting the need to have indiscriminate registration of our people.
“I have observed that this is a problem across the country but I was touched when I witnessed it in Bulilima West constituency. This has even affected children’s education as they can’t sit for examinations without birth certificates. Some are athletes who fail to participate beyond inter-house competitions due to the same problem,” said Cde Phuti.
He expressed hope that the Government will addressed the issue.
“Young people can’t attain other important documents as their fate is just decided by a simple document, the birth certificate.
“It is my profound hope that this call will be heard because President Mnangagwa is truly a listening President who has brought in many reforms with adherence to constitutionalism,” said Cde Phuti.
He continued: “Aware that the constitution of Zimbabwe calls for a delimitation exercise in 2022, the danger is that some constituencies such as mine, with only 15 900 registered voters, will also be affected by this painful registry reality. We have a lot of people who can’t exercise simple rights such as voting. Surely that must be looked at sooner than later.”
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has on record pledged to address the problem of lack of documentation of people particularly in the Matabeleland region, by the end of this year.
ZHRC is empowered in terms of section 243 (1) (j) of the Constitution to conduct national enquiries and research into issues relating to fundamental human rights, freedoms and social justice.
The national inquiry is focusing on five national documents; birth certificates, national identity cards, passports, death certificates and citizenship.
Speaking during the commencement of the inaugural public hearing on the National Inquiry on Access to Documentation in Zimbabwe in Bulawayo Metropolitan province late last year, ZHRC chairperson Dr Elasto Mugwadi, said they were aware of the challenges faced in accessing national documents such as passports and birth certificates.
The Gukurahundi issue is one of the major problems in Matabeleland that has resulted in some people, especially orphans who lost their parents during that time, failing to access essential national documents.
“As ZHRC, our mandate is to enforce the enjoyment of human rights, their promotion and protection and our target is to have no stateless people by the end of 2020. No one should by the end of 2020 be facing challenges of documentation. We also have been following the challenges in terms of issuance of passports,” said Dr Mugwadi. — @mthabisi_mthire.