Zimbabwe: Report on The Gwanda Community Youth Development Trust Petition on Access to Primary Documents
Source: Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security
HON. MAYIHLOME: I rise to present a report of the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security on the Gwanda that:
This House takes note of the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security on the Gwanda Community Youth Development Trust Petition on the access to primary documents (S.C. 9, 2019).
HON. NGULUVHE: I second.
HON. BRIG. GEN (RTD) MAYIHLOME: The Report on Gwanda Community Youth Development Trust Petition on Issuance of Primary Documents highlights the extent of existing challenges experienced in accessing primary documents in Matabeleland South Province, a phenomenon prevalent in frontier provinces of the country. These challenges include:-
- Failure to acquire birth certificates by orphans, vulnerable children and children with single parents;
- Impact of lack of primary documentation;
- Prohibitive legislation which is often implemented with rigidity;
- Complex and cumbersome administrative policies on issuance of primary documents and
- In-house administrative issues within the Registrars` Department such as low staffing levels, unsuitable accommodation and lack of facilities among others.
It was from submissions by stakeholders and members of the public that the Committee was able to synthesise existing challenges and proffer its recommendations.
On the 10th of December, 2018 the Petition from the Gwanda Community Youth Development Trust (CYDT) on challenges relating to issuance of primary documents was referred to the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services. The Petitioners` prayer was that Parliament should take measures to ensure the protection of the right to birth certificates and identity documents. In the exercise of its oversight role, Parliament was obliged to assess and oversee the adequacy and effectiveness of policies and practises of the Registrar General’s Office in the provision of birth and national registration in frontier provinces, particularly, in Matabeleland South. This is in so far as to determine the right to a name and access to relevant documentation as well as downstream rights such as the right to education and other social services. The prayer also beseeched Parliament to recommend that the Registrar General’s Office adopts policies and practices that take into account peculiarities of border areas in ensuring that the rights and interests of children are protected and to call upon the Office to adopt measures that redress the prevailing challenges in the affected areas.
The Committee interviewed the Registrar General, Mr Clement Masango and visited some districts in Matabeleland South Province, namely Gwanda, Beitbridge, Plumtree, Maphisa and Kezi. Further to that the Committee also interviewed the petitioners to get first-hand information on what was obtaining on the ground. In areas visited, the Committee interacted with officials at the provincial and district registries to get an appreciation of the challenges they encountered in the issuance of primary documents. Apart from interaction with officials, the Committee observed the processes at the offices visited and also interacted with the clients.
The Committee also gathered evidence through the following methods:
- On-site inspection of infrastructure such as offices, furniture and other materials at centres visited to check the appropriateness of the work place;
- Conducting of interviews with officials on the quality of service delivered and customers on the level of satisfaction with such services;
- Interaction with the hospital administration staff in Gwanda and Kezi on issuance of birth records at their institutions; and
- Gathering of information from members of the public, Petitioners and Ministry officials on challenges encountered on obtaining primary documents.
Indeed the Committee is indebted to all stakeholders who contributed to the inquiry which culminated in this Report.
Submission Presented to the committee
Lack of Birth Certificates
The Community Youth Development Trust, a Civic Organisation based in Gwanda, highlighted the nature and extent of the challenges encountered in accessing primary documents. Major reasons that were proffered on why some people did not have primary documents were attributed to the following:-
Children with single parents
There were children either born of single parents or were under the care of single parents. In most cases these parents either did not have primary documents themselves or they did not have required documentation to obtain birth certificates such as birth records for the children. The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the acquisition of primary documents by single parents and guardians in charge of minors had become extremely impossible owing to stringent regulatory requirements that had to be met for such documents to be obtained. Children born in the affected areas were sometimes left in the custody of grandparents or other guardians who could not trace the parents at the time of acquiring primary documents. Some parents were said to have migrated across the borders into South Africa and Botswana leaving their off-spring behind without any form of documentation.
Children born out of wedlock
There were generational issues such as those inherited from those born of parents who never had any form of primary documentation in their lives spanning from grandparents, parents and their children.
Children who are citizens by decent
The Committee observed that there were children born outside Zimbabwe who neither had birth records nor any witnesses to confirm their births and yet they were Zimbabweans by descent.
School Children without Birth Certificates
The Committee received oral submissions to the fact that in the Matobo District, Halale Primary School had a lot of pupils who did not have birth certificates. Statistics given were that one hundred and twenty eight children out of a total of three hundred children did not have birth certificates. It was extremely disturbing to your Committee to hear that of these children without birth certificates seven of them came from one family.
Transit and Border proximity challenges
It was also brought to the Committee’s attention that owing to the proximity of Matebeleland South Province to South Africa and Botswana, people in these areas usually crossed the borders in search of economic opportunities. Sometimes when they returned to the country, they brought back with them their children who would have been born outside the country and these added to the numbers of the many children who did not have access to primary documents. The reasons for failure to access such primary documents were attributed to non-existent birth records confirming the children`s birth by Zimbabwean citizens abroad.
People affected by Gukurahundi
The Committee was informed by the members of the public that many people lost their documents as a result of the Gukurahundi in Matabeleland South Province and there were some children born during this era whose parents cannot be accounted for. This made it difficult for them to acquire primary documents as there were no witnesses coming forward to confirm that they were born by individuals from their local communities.
High cost of acquiring Birth Certificates
The costs of ferrying witnesses to the Registrar General’s offices for acquiring primary documents is too high for the ordinary citizens. They also expressed their disapproval at the insensitivity of the policies which did not take into account that whenever one was requested to bring along the witnesses there was no due regard for the costs that one had to bear. These costs were related to witnesses` accommodation, meals and transport at a time when the vicissitudes of the economy had taken a turn for the worst. Suffice to say that opportunity costs of acquiring primary documents were particularly high for people living in the border areas of the country.
The public was not aware of the downward review of fees due to lack of information dissemination. The fees have since been slashed from fifty dollars to two dollars with effect from December, 2018. As a result, people were not seeking identity documents due to perceived high levels of user fees.
Double registration of Deaths certificates
The Committee was informed that the situation was caused by the clients` ignorance and lack of information and appreciation that the abridged death certificates from South Africa were equally regarded as complete certificates and were legally recognised in Zimbabwe without any repercussions;
Withholding of Birth Records due to non-payment
Local hospitals were alleged to have been withholding birth records due to non-payment of maternity fees, hence denying children their basic rights to acquire birth certificates and other social basic amenities offered by the State. In this regard, the hospitals were perceived as indirectly using the Registrar General`s Department as their debt collector.
Absence of reliable information on children`s identities
False information was being issued out by kraal heads, school officials and health personnel about the children`s identities. Consequently, some of these officials were alleged to be charging for such services. A case in point was in Kezi, where the Committee received such information from Ministry officials.
Long distances travelled to access services
It was also submitted to the Committee that some communities are failing to access the Registrar General`s offices due to the long distances that they had to travel to get their primary documents. Submissions were made to the fact that some distances that had to be covered were well over two hundred kilometres to travel to the Registrar General`s offices. A case in point was the distance between Mangwe & Gwanda and Plumtreee and Gwanda. For instance, people have to travel from Chikwalakwala area to Gwanda and also from Shangani area to Gwanda to obtain primary documents. Members of the public suggested that there is need to set up sub offices in their districts so that they do not have to travel long distances for purposes of acquiring their primary documents. They further suggested the need to decentralise production of passports to their respective Provinces as a way of reducing the distances that people have to travel to acquire such documents.
Process of acquiring primary documents
The youths in Matabeleland South Province informed the Committee that the requirement for applicants who wanted to access primary documents were very cumbersome to the extent that some clients ended giving up before acquiring the documents. Consequently, the majority of them had dropped out of school due to their failure to acquire documents such as birth certificate and national identification cards.
The issuance of passports was said to be an extremely bureaucratic and slow process which could easily be turned into a fertile ground for corrupt practices. They said the whole process for getting passports is too long which de-motivates residents who stay in borders. In most cases, clients applying for passports complained of poor feedback and long waiting periods. Senior citizens staying in border areas found it difficult to acquire passports. They also said that the real cost of acquiring primary documents had a lot of hidden costs that had to be borne by applicants.
In some cases, for one to get an emergency passport one had to sell his or her livestock to raise money, hence the need for special permits taking into consideration their advanced ages. The Committee received submissions where some 85 year old applicants had been requested to bring witnesses in order for them to acquire their birth documents.
Some of the challenges were said to be those relating to issues of burial orders. It was alleged that at times there were cases of individuals who did not come forward to acquire death certificates for their relative but instead only relied on burial orders as proof of death of their relatives. Such a scenario had far reaching consequences when it came to issues of administration of estates of the deceased.
Application of Laws and Policies
Throughout the districts visited by the Committee, there was an outcry that laws were too cumbersomely applied with extreme rigidity to the extent that it discouraged clients from applying for documents. In their submissions, some of the stakeholders condemned lack of discretion on the part of the officials who were in most cases adamant that witnesses be brought to testify even in extreme cases involving very elderly people in their late eighties who did not have requisite documents.
Incidents of language barrier were also highlighted where clients complained of cases where their names were misspelt by officials from the Registrar General’s office who were not conversant with local languages in these communities. In their submissions, members of such communities complained that it was quite costly for them to have those errors rectified.
The non-availability of primary documents also affected some sections of the population such as war veterans who needed to be allowed to get easy access to such documentation so that they could get their social benefits. The findings by your Committee on the challenges faced by the people in Matabeleland South Province had a lot of similarities throughout the districts visited namely Gwanda, Beitbridge, Plumtree, Maphisa and Kezi.
The Committee noted there were challenges of inadequate resources that the office of the Registrar General has to grapple with. However, there is compelling need for the Department to seriously address the following:-
- Unsuitable office facilities, these are very crowded and not user friendly and a lot of paper work being used.
- Inadequate Transport, there were no vehicles in most of the Registrar`s General offices.
- Lack of foreign currency for passport paper, this is affecting the entire department particularly at the production centre.
- Inefficient online systems, the network system is always down, hence it is difficult for them to use internet.
- Complex paperwork, the forms that people may be requested to fill in details are many and sometimes the questions which were being asked are difficult to answer.
- Lack of public awareness – most people do not have idea on when public awareness programme will be conducted and they do not know the importance of having primary documents.
Impact of lack of birth certificates
The impact of lack of access to primary documents deprives citizens of education to levels beyond grade seven hence a lot of students drop out of school before writing primary school examinations. This has an effect of prematurely ending their educational careers. Further to that talented sport persons find it difficult to represent the country or to participate competitively due to non-availability of their primary documents. Subsequently their potential in the sporting discipline is not realised.
The increased numbers of undocumented nationalities has the potential of exposing the country to high security risk which may manifest itself in spiralling criminal activities and human trafficking. Consequently it would be difficult to account for perpetrators of such activities as they would be unregistered. Suffice to say the numbers of undocumented nationalities will also continue to rise from one generation to the other. In addition lack of access to primary documentation has the impact of having false figures during census enumeration. It also results in stateless people, deprives citizens of their voting rights, basic rights, access to customary law benefits and other social benefits. Furthermore the impact of lack of primary documents leads to inaccurate resource planning and retards poverty alleviation strategies by Government.
In view of the challenges experienced, your Committee recommends the following measures to be undertaken in order to alleviate the plight of the citizens:-
- The department should streamline requirements for obtaining primary documents taking into account the peculiarities of border areas by 31st December 2019.
- The Ministry should undertake public awareness programmes on the importance of acquiring primary documents so that future generations are not disenfranchised and deprived of their citizenship status as a result of their parents who may not be so appreciative of the need to acquire such documentation by 31st December, 2019;
- The Ministry conducts massive mobile registration exercises always as an all year round programme instead of carrying the exercise at specific times; i.e. around Christmas holidays when it is envisaged that, those working in neighbouring countries would have come into the country for the festive season. The time and allocation of resources may be problematic hence the failure to achieve the intended noble objectives;
- The Ministry should give a special dispensation for those who fall victim to natural disasters such as floods, lightning and infernos. These should be given amnesty to acquire their primary documents without any cumbersome procedures by 31st December, 2019;
- That the office of the Registrar General be decentralised to all parts of the country by 31st December 2019 to make it easy for people in the hinterland to acquire documents, a service currently available in urban centres;
- That reliable transport, preferably four wheel drive type of vehicles, should always be availed to assist in conducting periodic visits to outreach areas;
- The Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage should undertake ongoing refresher courses and training in customer care for officers so that quality service may be provided by the department in the province.
- The Registrar General’s office should create facilities for birth certificates at E.C.D centres by 31st December 2020.
- The Registrar General’s office should immediately relax search penalties for lost documents.
- There is need for a continuous monitoring and evaluation framework that enhances parliamentary oversight on the Registrar General’s department
The Committee envisages that this report and recommendations contained therein will go a long way towards alleviating the plight of affected citizens. The public hearing on the petition enabled the Committee to get an appreciation of the challenges in frontier provinces of the country with regards to the issuance of primary documents. It is, therefore, the Committee’s fervent hope that the Ministry will consider this report and take remedial measures to expeditiously come up with policies that make it less cumbersome to acquire primary documents throughout the country. Such policies should include an amnesty by the Registrar General’s office in the handling of similar cases like the ones raised by the Petitioners. I thank you.
Download report and debate : https://parlzim.gov.zw/national-assembly-hansard/national-assembly-hansard-27-august-2019-vol-45-no-80