Birth registration in Zimbabwe, can we do more?
By Stanley Gwavuya
The right to a name and an identity is one of the most fundamental human rights, and is especially critical to the realisation of children’s rights.
Children without birth certificates are at a higher risk of lifelong deprivations and exclusion from socio-economic benefits.
More than 50 million children born each year in the world are not registered at birth of which the majority are in Africa.
Commendable actions have been taken the world over to ensure and promote the realisation of children’s rights. The United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which came into effect in 1990, highlights the need for special care of children including their legal rights.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children (ACRWC) of 1990 aims to guarantee the rights of children within the African context.
Zimbabwe ratified the UNCRC in 1992 and signed the ACRWC which both provide for the right of children to be registered at birth. However, Zimbabwe had started the journey earlier on through the Births and Deaths Registration Act [Chapter 5:02] of 1986.
The Act puts the responsibility for the notification of birth or stillbirth to either the parents and or in their inability, the occupier of the house in which birth occurred, health worker, headman, witness to the birth provided the person has attained 18 years of age or any other person having responsibility for the child.
Chapter 5:02 also stipulates that births should be registered within 42 days of a child’s birth and at the latest before the expiry of 12 months. Thereafter, a written authority of the Registrar-General is required.
Despite the provisions in the law, birth registration in Zimbabwe is far from comprehensive. A trend analysis from survey data shows that the situation has barely changed since 1999.
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) survey of 2010-11 show that the percentage of children registered stood at about 49 percent among children under five years of age. What could be going wrong, less than half of the children under five years are registered yet the law requires children to be registered within 42 days?
A further interrogation of the 2010-11 ZDHS data gives us one side of the story, the demand side. The data shows that age of child, paternal orphanhood, association to the apostolic faith, caretaker’s education status, household wealth status, place/facility of birth, and province of residence are significant factors affecting the likelihood of birth registration.
Household wealth status and place of birth are the leading factors even after controlling for co-influence. In number terms, it shows that only about 32 percent of children born at home are registered as compared to between 54 percent and 63 percent of children born in a health facility.
About 74 percent of children under five years from the richest households are registered compared to between 33 percent and 44 percent from poor households. Such stark inequities boggle the mind.
What can explain these inequities driven by the two leading factors? According to the law, a birth confirmation record is a prerequisite for birth registration. This could be a sticking point, especially for home deliveries, where a witness is required in the absence of a health facility issued birth confirmation record.
While traditional leaders can issue a birth record, is this system fully operational? The importance of household wealth status suggests the toll of indirect costs associated although the service itself is free of charge.
What then can be done? To all parents, I put it to you as first level duty bearers to take birth registration with the urgency it deserves. Let’s not wait to register children until facilitated by the necessities of school enrolment.
To the supply side, the country has a history of successes in other areas such as vaccination of children. What have we done differently to reach such high levels of BCG immunisation of over 90 percent for example? Immunisation campaign days have achieved so much. Why not a similar arrangement for birth registration?
What happened to the mobile registrations units, has this fallen out of the priority list? Despite the existing efforts, more is required mindful that comprehensive data on birth registration allows for more accurate planning and implementation of development policies and programmes, particularly in the fields of health, education, housing, water, sanitation and employment.