Children born outside the country, mostly in South Africa, face difficulties in accessing national documents back home, as they have no birth confirmation records from local health institutions.
South Africa is home to millions of Zimbabweans (both documented and undocumented), who often send their children back home to stay with relatives while they eke out a living in that country.
For one to access a birth certificate, the Registrar’s Office requires a birth confirmation record from either a hospital or clinic where one would have given birth.
“Children are sent (home) with ‘Omalayitsha’ without birth confirmation records, which makes it hard for them to acquire documentation. For some children, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that parents would have assumed different local names for convenience of ease of residence in South Africa,” said Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), Dr Elasto Mugwadi.
He added that failure to access documentation was also compounded by the unknown whereabouts of their parents, which was “closely related to the migration of many Zimbabweans into the diaspora.”
Dr Mugwadi said this while giving his conclusive remarks after Bulawayo held public hearings on the National Inquiry on Access to Documentation last Friday.
He noted that during the inquiry, 28 witnesses had managed to obtain either birth certificates or their national Identity cards after receiving assistance at the venue.
“From 21 to 25 October, we received 519 submissions from five districts, Bulawayo Central, Mzilikazi, Reigate, Khami and Imbizo. 505 of these were individual submissions, 14 from stakeholder submissions such as traditional leaders, religious leaders, civic society, ward councillors, and government agencies. From Matabeleland North we had 48 submissions and 57 from Matabeleland South,” Dr Mugwadi said.
The ZHRC chairperson noted several challenges that were experienced by people in accessing national documentation.
“There are notable processing delays especially in fingerprint processing and passport applications, withholding of birth confirmation records by health centres for non-payment of hospital clinic bills contrary to the public position,” he noted.
Dr Mugwadi also cited that inaccessible Registrar General’s offices discouraged people from obtaining identity documents.
“For example, a person from Insiza North has to travel to Bulawayo before proceeding to the RG’s offices in Filabusi as there is no direct road. People also face difficulties in obtaining replacement or lost documents from the RG’s department.
“Inconsistent information on the necessary requirements by the RG’s department is another challenge, which often makes applicants to travel back and forth unnecessarily and demotivating then in the process plus the questionable turning away of applicants who meet all the requirements,” said the chairperson.
He also spoke out against corrupt tendencies, worsened by touts who operated at the RG’s office.
“There are difficulties in obtaining birth certificates owing to controversial corrections on official documents. One case is that of a witness from Matobo District who had health cards for her two children born in South Africa altered at a local clinic but not signed for,” noted Dr Mugwadi.
“Negative attitudes and lack of customer care or human rights based services delivery by staff at government departments such as the RG”s office and department of social welfare which discourage people from accessing services or documents when they need them.”
He also said exorbitant prices charged by the RG’s office posed challenges for people.
“Poverty which results in lack of money to travel or obtain identity documents and pay registration fees and prohibitive citizenship fees pegged at RGTS $5 000.”
Some of the challenges that hindered access to documentation, Dr Mugwadi cited were from orphaned children, whose parents were both undocumented and were deceased.
“Grandparents failure to obtain documents on behalf of their grandchildren resulting in generations of people with the same challenge. Rigid laws, which do not cater for peculiar cases that do not fit into the legal framework in places. There are a disturbing number of false registration cases where people due to desperation, use unusual registration mechanisms.
“For example, the case of an 18-year-old mother who confessed to registering her children using sister’s identity documents. This further complicates the situations requiring attention by the RG’s department. Lack of birth confirmation records by members of some apostolic sects and orphans deterring chances of one to obtain birth certificates,” he said.
The ZHRC also recommended counselling for some Gukurahundi victims, who while testifying at the inquiry broke down.
“There are challenges related to the Gukurahundi disturbances evident in the deliberate with the withholding of vital information,” Dr Mugwadi.