This article outlines some of the personal stories of individuals reached and supported by Trinity Project through their community outreach channels, such as workshops in local communities, mobile office drop ins and legal advice clinics, and visiting homes and community centres. It shows some of the key barriers Trinity is facing surrounding registration, the value of their work supporting the most vulnerable, and the importance of localising this to individuals and communities. Last year, ZET made this possible by covering all transport costs, and we hope to do this and more in 2018.
The Story of… Tariro
Early birth registration is a misunderstood and neglected issue in Zimbabwe, despite being a human right recognised in national and international law. A birth certificate in most societies is a legal document that gives identity to a child and automatically bestows a number of rights such as the right to healthcare, education, property ownership, nationality and formal employment.
Birth registration is also essential for national planning. Birth registration helps authorities deliver essential services easily. According to UNICEF, neglect of civil registration has been identified as the most critical failure of development. It is clear that without vital statistics like number of births per year we cannot monitor progress towards our development. In Bulawayo for example a number of births have not been registered for various reasons. This can affect our development as we cannot allocate vital services and resources to people accurately.
Tariro is an unregistered 14-year-old orphan who lives with her maternal aunt, Portia. Portia is an unemployed widow and is HIV positive, so she struggles to put food on the table or care for her dependents. Tariro started school late due to a long period of sickness as a child, but found it extremely difficult when she joined school due to pressures at home and being bullied by other students. Eventually she was forced to drop out, and now supports her aunt by running small paid errands for other community members – perceiving no other options for her circumstance.
However, if she had been registered, Tariro would have been entitled to some sort of educational grant and welfare. This tragic case demonstrates the importance of obtaining a birth certification to improve and enrich your life.
The Story of… Constance
Zimbabwe is governed by patriarchal cultural values which direct behaviour and attitudes. For example, men are regarded as the head of households, and children expected to take their names. This means that in instances where the father is absent or not supportive of registration, mothers can often hold off from registering children in their own names out of fear of cultural stigma, and leave the children unregistered until the father returns or proffers use of his surname.
Officers have encountered countless cases with this issue being the cause of birth registration delay. One such case is Constance Sibanda, who has two children Michael (aged 8) and Nomazulu (aged 5). Constance believes that registering the children in her own surname is a taboo, and she will be disadvantaging them as the ancestors would turn their backs on them. She thinks that, it is best to try and persuade the father to come and register the children and that eventually she will be successful as they would realize their duty.
However, while she waits around, Michael, and Nomazulu remain aliens in their own country and as such cannot access the benefits of being citizens. If anything happens to Constance, the children will be left vulnerable and may not be able to access their inheritance. Many parents want their children to conform to cultural expectations ad rules, so that they may be protected and live good lives, but in this bid, they fail to protect them in the most basic of situations such as securing their future through proper documentation. Families often choose traditionally correct practices over legally correct practices, leaving their children vulnerable.
Trinity’s advice in this case is to secure your child and ensure that they receive what is rightfully theirs through legal registration. If the father later decides to be part of the child’s life, he can undergo the process of changing the surname, at a fee which he will be responsible to pay.
The Story of… Samantha
Samantha was a fifteen-year-old girl from rural Matabeleland. She was an orphan and lived in a very poor village where having three meals a day was a rare privilege. Everyone in the village wanted a way out of their poverty. Samantha was taken to the orphanage together with her other friends, which they all hated. They ran away from the orphanage and went to the city to search for jobs. They were employed in different places and so separated. Samantha worked as a maid for a widow, who ill-treated and overworked Samantha, whilst paying her with less and less food and wages.
She thought of leaving the job, deciding that being a street kid was better and living instead under a bridge with other street kids. She was the only girl in a group of older boys; here she was subjected to ongoing abuse and sexual assault and denied access to basic supplies including food, clothes, blankets and sanitary wear.
One day she was found under the bridge by a woman named Isabel, who took her in, clothed her and fed her. In time, Isabel adopted Samantha, funded her through the registration process, and enrolled her in education. Samantha excelled in school, and went on to study Law at university. As an adult, Samantha aims to pay forward this vital help, and has opened her own orphanage to care for vulnerable children and street kids, based off memories of her own experience. This is how she was discovered by Trinity Project, who often receive case referrals of local orphans.
All of these stories reveal the many opportunities made available to children only once they are registered and the many complexities in registering orphaned and vulnerable children. We are very grateful to Trinity Project staff for all their work in local communities out in the field, gathering these interesting and difficult stories and supporting people in vital need.
Written by Trinity Project Officers
Edited by Privilege Sibanda (Trinity Project) and Hannah O’Riordan (ZET)