“For children to count, they have to be counted.” Harry Belafonte
This quote highlights the importance of birth registration particularly on the right to a sound education. Birth registration is the process by which a child’s birth is recorded in the civil register by the applicable government authority. It provides the first legal recognition of the child and is generally required for the child to obtain a birth certificate. Unfortunately, many African countries fail to adhere consistently this process.
In Zimbabwe achieving universal birth registration remains a difficult task. Progress towards universal birth registration in Zimbabwe is slow and the gap between promise and achievement remains wide. According to UNICEF (2015), only 31 per cent of children are registered before the 5th birthday. Nevertheless, the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency provides a less conservative estimate suggesting that 38 per cent of children are registered within the first 59 months after birth (ZimStats, 2015). Still, even after the 5th birthday, birth registration success remains undesirably low (Save the Children et al., 2011)
This may affect a child’s right to basic education, especially as birth certificate acknowledges the existence of a child and absence of this may slow down the school enrolment process. Without valid proof of age, children are unable to register for the exams that allow them to continue onto secondary education.
However, there are laws establishing these rights. For instance, Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that, ‘The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name and the right to acquire a nationality’. This convention imposes a duty on states parties to register the birth of every child.
In the same vein, Article 24 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the General Assembly adopted in 1966, provides that ‘every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name’.
Despite the fact that there are laws (both international and national) in place to address this problem, achieving birth registration still remains a tall order in Zimbabwe. This is due, in part, to lack of awareness/education of the parents of the existing laws on birth registration. Especially as residents in rural areas have little or no information that there are sanctions in place for non-compliance with birth registration.
An empirical study was carried out in Zimbabwe to ascertain why this issue persist and it was realised that most participants were unaware that it is legally required to have a birth certificate or sanctions involved for non-compliance. Although participants were aware of the procedures to follow when applying for a birth certificate, they were not sufficiently apprised of the compulsory requirement of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 5:02 to give notice of a live birth of a child within the first 42 days.
Awareness of this legislation coupled with visible and clear sanctions may encourage increase in birth registration. This is because the law is seen as a viable tool to control human behaviour if properly enforced. Could this show a way forward?
Birth registration has been framed as child’s rights and a mechanism through which children access human rights. Therefore, laws on birth registration in Zimbabwe needs to be properly promoted and pressure exerted where none exist. Birth registration is very crucial in every facet of life, it establishes the identity of an individual. Without identity a person does not exist, at least on paper, and this is no small barrier. As the World Bank observes, the possession of a birth certificate represents a ‘permanent, legal and visible recognition by the state of a child’s existence as a member of society.
Guest Blogger: Ibukunoluwa Iyiola-Omisore