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Birth registration must be mandatory

Editorials
File pic: Central Registry

THE Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) tells us that only 19% of children born between April 2021 and April 2022 were registered, meaning that 81% of the thousands of infants born in that 12-month period have no birth certificates.

In other words, it means that all those children do not exist because they are not in the country’s records.

This is unsettling, unacceptable and embarrassing in this day and age. This situation is so untenable that it threatens to thrust the nation into the Stone Age era, where humanity lived like animals in the wild.

There is absolutely no excuse for this very humiliating situation whereby we fail to record our children at birth, the very first right they should be accorded as soon as they enter this world.

The process is so simple that it boggles the mind why Zimbabwe is finding it difficult to register children born in both urban and rural areas where ZimStat says only 28,3% and 13,7% infants were, respectively, registered at birth.

Child rights lawyer Caleb Mutandwa says: “People in the rural areas tend to travel for long distances to get to the registration centres so it discourages some of them to get access to facilities for them to register their children at birth.

“Lack of knowledge on the importance of birth registration is also another major reason children are not registered. Most people see the importance of acquiring birth certificates for their children ahead of some important life event such as starting school. Also the issue of home birth is a contributing factor to lack of registration at birth. After giving birth at home, some do not bother to register their children.”

Granted, but still hugely unacceptable!

It should never matter where one is born, at home or at a far-flung clinic at the back of beyond, it should be easy to record birth in less than a week.

As of 2015, there were 218 hospitals in Zimbabwe, broken down to 120 government hospitals run by the Health and Child Care ministry, 66 church-run mission hospitals and 32 privately-operated health centres.

This number excluded government, council and privately-run clinics running into hundreds, if not a thousand. Quite a sizeable number of the country’s 1 200 wards are known to have clinics.

So if government was serious about making sure that it accords Zimbabwean citizens their very first right, all these hospitals and clinics should be in a position to register births regardless of where they occurred — under a tree, on the roadside or inside some hut out in the bush.

Once a birth is documented, the issue of a birth certificate should be made easier by making sure that each of the country’s 63 districts have modern, not necessarily state-of-the-art machinery to immediately spit out a birth certificate once the health centres and parents present proof of birth.

The process of obtaining a birth certificate once a birth occurs should never take a week, even if walking to the district birth registry is taken into consideration.

And more importantly, registering a birth within a week should be made mandatory once convenient mechanisms are put in place. At the moment, it appears as if it is optional for one to register a birth, which is as strange as it is unacceptable.

Making it mandatory to register births has many advantages, chief among them being that Zimbabwe will be in a better position to know its real population for easier and more efficient national resource and service allocation.

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