Source: The Herald (Harare)
opinion By Thupeyo Muleya
It is common knowledge that a person can be a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth, registration or descent in line with the supreme law of the land.Furthermore, the Constitution states that all Zimbabweans are equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship, and are equally subject to the duties and obligations of citizenship.
The citizens are also entitled to the following rights and benefits granted to them by the law: protection of the State wherever they may be; issuance of birth certificates and other identity documents, passports and other travel documents, by the State.
A birth certificate is a prerequisite for one to acquire secondary documents including a national identity card or passport, or any other travel document.
Every government has an obligation to manage and jealously guard against issues of citizenship, but the acquisition of birth certificates has become cumbersome, if not elusive for many people living in some remote parts of Zimbabwe.
Obtaining travel documents is a challenge to many, especially those in remote areas and who were also born in dysfunctional families.
Matabeleland South provincial education director Mrs Thumisang Tabela said recently that at least 30 percent of children in the province especially those living on the borders of Botswana and South Africa were undocumented.
She said the reasons varied from having absent parents, most of whom are in the Diaspora and/or based in these two neighbouring countries, while others fell in the orphans and vulnerable children category.
For a start, where both parents are married whether legally or customarily, they need to approach the Registrar-General’s Office and produce a birth record, their national identification documents and the child’s health card. In case of single mothers, they may produce the same documents besides that of the father.
It is understood that those with children born outside the country will, in addition to the above documents, need to produce the parents’ birth certificates and a list of other requirements to prove that they are Zimbabwean citizens.
Those registering as orphans and vulnerable children would need to produce guardianship documents and deaths certificates among others.
Investigations by The Herald showed that very few people are able to meet the requirements, especially the illegal migrants with children born in foreign lands.
Further, the lack of civic education on citizenship matters has resulted in the reduction by many parents to register the births of their children.
The Registrar-General’s Office has also failed to decentralise its service delivery, to ensure that this key service is brought closer to the people. In some cases, they have sub-offices, but these still are inadequate.
Many illegal immigrants have given up hope of registering the births of their children due to the strenuous processes both at Immigration and the RG’s office.
In some cases, children in rural areas are failing to sit for Grade 7 examinations because they will be undocumented.
Government must decentralise further issuance of birth registration and review the requirements mainly for children born in disjointed families, or those with absent parents, orphans and other vulnerable groups.
Mobile services might be carried out quarterly when schools are open considering that there are registers of these undocumented children in schools.
In addition, the RG’s Office should have sub-offices at ward level or at health centres where issues of midwifery are handled. This would assist in the quick registration of births when mothers take them for post-natal check-ups.
Further, there is need to scale up civic education across the country concerning issues of citizenship.
The lack of documentation has also contributed to an increase in illegal migration between Zimbabwe and its neighbouring countries.
It is important for Government to find a way of accommodating such people who end up losing hope on getting passports and see illegal migration as an alternative.
The law must descend heavily on cross-border transporters, commonly known as Omalayitsha, who are known to be at the forefront discouraging people from registering births or applying for travel documents.
They feel these are a threat to the establishment.
This group of people charge anything from R1 500 to R2 000 to illegally transport one to South Africa and R600 back to Zimbabwe.
Documentation should also be spread to foreign missions to ease pressure on the local offices.
This would help address the birth registration of children born outside the country.
Experience has also shown that it becomes difficult for embassies to identify people who die in foreign lands without documentation.
When a Zimbabwean citizen dies in a foreign land, the repatriation documents are processed at various consul offices.
The following are needed to initiate the processes: the deceased’s national identification document, especially a passport of the deceased or a birth certificate or national identification card for those travelling by road, and strictly passport for those flying.
It is high time our Government introspect on the forces behind the documentation of people particularly those in rural areas, and attend to the issues with the urgency they deserve.
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