Source: Center for Innovation and Technology (CITE), Bulawayo
BY NOMAQHAWE NDLOVU
Brian Ngwenya* was born to Zimbabwean parents in South Africa 15 years ago, but he was forced to relocate to Zimbabwe after his father died and his mother developed a mental illness.
Ngwenya said he had to come back home because his mother’s condition made difficult for her to take care of him.
He was to live under the care of his maternal grandmother in rural Kezi, Matabeleland South.
Ngwenya’s grandmother had to beg the headmaster at a local school to allow him to attend classes even though he did not have a birth certificate, one of the required documents when one enrols for formal education in the country.
“My grandson will soon be taking his Grade 7 examinations and I am worried he will face challenges as he has no birth certificate,” she said.
“Every time I go to the Registrar [General’s] offices I am told I have to bring his parents` documents and they also want $50, which is too much for me.”
Zimbabwean laws, particularly the Births and Deaths Registration Act (Chapter 5:02), require that all children be registered, but this is often easier said than done.
There are hundreds of thousands of children in Ngwenya’s predicament, with an Access to Documentation (ATD) Baseline Survey conducted by a consortium of civil society organisations in Bulawayo in 2017, revealing that an estimated 445 852 children in the three Matabeleland provinces did not have a birth certificate.
Civil society organisations from the region have petitioned the government to ensure that these unregistered children receive civil documentation.
Factors like distance from the Registrar General’s office, the attitude of the staff once there and the process for applying for documentation are some of the reasons listed as being a hindrance to access to birth certificates.
But the biggest obstacle by far is the list of documents that is needed by the Registrar General’s office for them to start processing birth certificates.
The Matabeleland region suffers the double whammy of being the epicentre of the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities, which saw an estimated 20 000 people being killed.
The unaccounted for deaths of adults meant that their children could not get birth certificates.
In some cases, women were raped and from that abuse, they gave birth to children who could not get birth certificates because of the absence of their fathers.
In response to a public outcry and lobbying from civil society, the government has reduced the requirements needed for one to acquire a birth certificate, particularly for children born outside the country.
They reduced the fees from $50 to $2 for children above six years old, while those below can now acquire the document for free.