Birth registration is considered one of the most important rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 20 of 2013. In terms of section 81(1)(c) of the Constitution, every child whether born in or outside Zimbabwe has a right to prompt issuance of a birth certificate.In terms of the Births and Deaths Registration Act [Chapter 5:02] of 1986, births should be registered within 42 days of a child’s birth and at the latest before the expiry of 12 months.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to register births of their children. A birth certificate can be used to verify a person’s age.Birth certificates are not only important in proving who the child is but they also help when registering important life events such as adoptions and even obtaining other documents such as passports and national identity cards.
They also enable children to participate in sport and other extra curricula activities.
Birth registration can play an important role in fighting child marriages by deterring would-be offenders. In the absence of a birth certificate, it is difficult, to prove the child’s age. Due to various reasons including economic ones, sometimes children are forced by their parents or guardians to lie about their age in order to protect the offender.
In some cases, children who would have dropped out of school at an early stage due to lack of birth certificates as they fail to sit for national examinations, start engaging in sexual activities with older people or even get ‘married’ because they no longer have anything productive to do with their lives. Efforts to rescue these children from the above mentioned situations and even employing the criminal justice system may fail because prosecuting the offender for having sexual intercourse with a young person might not succeed due to lack of evidence that the child is under age. This is especially so with children who are close to the age of sixteen years.
Birth registration allows a child to enjoy a lot of rights such as the right to education, health, social assistance among others and this plays a role in fighting child marriages as enjoyment of rights such as the right to education may go a long way in protecting children from ending up getting married early.
In conclusion, it is important for the Government of Zimbabwe to come up with law reforms that will make it easy to register births as currently the requirements for birth registration appear to be cumbersome. The Government should also increase its mandate of educating its citizens on the importance of acquiring birth certificates for children. Citizens should be made aware what the requirements are for acquiring birth certificates for children who find themselves with different situations that affect such acquisitions.
There is also need to decentralise birth registration services as some people fail to travel long distances or have no transport fares to go to the Registrar General’s office to register their children.
For more information contact Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association 134 J. Tongogara/14th Avenue, Bulawayo. Tel: +263 292 887185-7. Email [email protected]