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Passport to life: Shyllet Mwangayara displays her children's recently acquired birth certificates

Bright sparks in Zimbabwe’s birth registration drive, give hope in fight against statelessness

Less than half of births in Zimbabwe are registered, most of which are already the poorest and most excluded

TSHOLOTSHO – Shyllet Mwangayara’s oldest child, then 13 years old, experienced the difficulties of not having a birth certificate when she was forced out of primary school and declined registration for grade 7 public exams.

Mwangayara, had for eight years, failed to assist her five children with birth registration after her identification documents were burnt in a fire eight years earlier.

Despite living 60 kilometers west of Tsholotsho – where the closest civil registry office is located – transportation from the San Community, where Mwangayarara resides with her husband and family is scarce and out of the price range of many of the homes here, many of whom are food poor and are unable to access basic amenities.

It was made more challenging by the reason that Mwangayara’s spouse does not advocate for their children’s paperwork.

It didn’t bother the 41-year-old though who holds the belief that because mothers give birth to children, they should be responsible for ensuring that birth records are updated.

It’s a gender stereotype she says she has heard her entire life and accepted more so as it is often reinforced by civil registry authorities, she claims.

“My eldest couldn’t write her grade 7 exams at the same time as her age-mates because she had no birth certificate,” Mwangayara says.

“Fortunately there was a mobile registration blitz in 2021 which assisted the San Community and from there I was able to get my identification document and also get my children’s birth certificates. My child was then able to register for grade 7 exams the following year,” Mwangayarara adds.

Headman Mtshina born Madlela Maphosa, concurred that a number of San from Tsholotsho who had never had a birth certificate and IDs, were able to get registered through the mobile blitz conducted by government in collaboration with United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide.

Maphosa, however, called for another mop up campaign or the construction of the basic amenity services in the area as many other households in the San Community remain stateless.

The mobile registration blitz, held between … saw 3,542 initial registration of children under the age of 16-years, 600 initial registration for persons above 16-years, 346 duplicate birth certificates for children under 16-years-of-age and 625 duplicate birth certificates were issued to persons above the age of 16 while 58 death certificates were issued.

Matebeleland and parts of Midlands are the provinces with a particularly challenging situation in terms of accessing national documentation, where death certificates of parents or guardians remain a challenge, resulting in generations of unregistered persons.

Without death certificates to prove parentage, birth certificates and national IDs are not issued.

However, Zimbabwe’s department of social development, say they provide “deserving cases” with sociological reports which are forwarded to the civil registry department to enable marginalised communities to be given identification documents.

On a whole though, less than half of births in Zimbabwe are registered, most of which are already the poorest and most excluded.

A recent Unicef report titled Strengthening Zimbabwe’s Civil Registration System posits that compared with other countries in the southern region, Zimbabwe has an advanced civil registration system, and with one standout technology: the capability to assign a digital identifier to each person which lasts for the duration of a citizen’s life.

“And yet, though Zimbabwe’s birth registration rates are rising, they are still low, with only 49% of the population being registered. In rural areas this figure drops to 40%, whereas in urban setting is stands at 69% [Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 2019]. Across the country, unregistered children are almost inevitably the children of the poor and excluded,” the report reads.

There is need to scale-up the civil registration of children in Zimbabwe.

Sweden, Zimbabwe’s long-term partner and donor to the protection sector, has invested US$5.8 million to support child protection programs in Zimbabwe, focusing on five key areas including the area of birth registration.

In the end, it will need all hands on deck to overcome the numerous obstacles to birth registration in the southern African nation, as well as the administrative, legal, and social barriers that are currently impeding thousands of Zimbabweans from obtaining birth registration and certification.