Community Development Legal and Parliamentary Affiars

Rights of children to prompt provision of a birth certificate

RG Office

By Rumbidzai Venge

A child is defined as any boy or girl below the age of eighteen. Children have no capacity to enter into contracts and require curatorship and supervision. To this end, the vulnerability of children calls for the adults surrounding them to provide protection from harm, food, health care, shelter, education, and above all to ensure the best interests of the child are met.

Before the changing of the Constitution of Zimbabwe under Amendment No. 20 of 2013, children’s rights were never set out explicitly, recognized or outlined in the Constitution. Sections 19 and 81 of the Constitution now capture the all-important rights of the child. The rights of every child are enshrined, recognized and elaborated. The High court is also established as the upper guardian of children – who are entitled to adequate protection by the judiciary. Of particular interest (and the crux of this article) is the right espoused in terms of section 81 (1)(c) (i) and (ii) ‘…in the case of a child who is born in Zimbabwe or outside Zimbabwe and is a Zimbabwean citizen by descent; to prompt provision of a birth certificate’.

A birth certificate not only allows the Registrar of Births and Deaths to statistically capture the addition of a new person into Zimbabwean society but –more importantly – it plays the role of providing a child with an identity (a name and last name) by which he or she will be called for the rest of their natural life. It also identifies whom the child’s parents are by name and from whence they hail. National identity numbers are also endorsed on the birth certificate by the Registrar.

A child not having a birth certificate affects the ability to enroll in educational institutions and obtain travel documents (such as a passport) as a birth certificate is pre-emptory. The importance of each child having this crucial document can never be overstated.

In times gone past, many mothers, particularly those who had children and were unmarried to the biological fathers, faced the uphill task of obtaining a birth certificate with the express consent of the biological father. So where the father ‘refused’ to make the trip to the district office for this purpose, the child was left with no birth certificate.

Efforts have been made to remove this impediment and mothers can now obtain a birth certificate with or without the biological father’s consent, thus empowering women to ensure their newborns have their constitutional rights upheld through prompt issuance of birth certificates. Where paternity is denied, the mother under the new provisions can simply have the child enrolled under her name and no further inconveniences will be suffered by the child for having no identity documents. The issue of disputed paternity can then be taken up with a competent court where DNA tests may then be conducted and dependent on the outcome, the responsible father is required to maintain his child.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and depriving a child of the right to a birth certificate is a direct contravention of Section 81. It is therefore recommended that any parties who are flouting this fundamental right rectify this promptly. All children must have birth certificates. Where challenges arise the constitution should be the first port of call for enforcement or relief.

Rumbidzai is a legal practitioner who writes in her own capacity. Twitter @Roomby101, Facebook : Rumbidzai Venge

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