By Busiswa Sobani
She wakes up in the morning, takes her older son to school then dashes to the National registry offices in Bulawayo, with the hope that she will get a birth certificate for her younger son.
Sisasenkosi Tshabalala, a mother of two boys, hits a brick wall on her attempt as the registry officer tells her that she cannot get a birth certificate for her younger son without the identity documentation of the child’s father. Empty handed she drives back home.
“I was told that in order for my son to use his father’s surname, I have to bring his ID. The father is in Ireland, trying hard to make ends meet for the kids and I, but unfortunately he went with his documents because they were needed at his destination. Why would I lie about his name and surname and where he comes from?” said Tshabalala.
Tshabalala is one of many mothers who have urged government to assist them in acquiring birth certificates as they are failing to acquire identity documents for children whose fathers are absent.
Amanda Nyathi also raised concerns saying her husband’s documents were stolen before he died, making it hard for her to get a birth certificate for her child.
“My husband died in South Africa. I live in Zimbabwe with my kids and I was told his documents were stolen as a result my last born had to use my own surname because I have no records of my husband’s identity,” she said.
Nyathi explained that the issue is not only about giving the child a birth certificate ,but it is also about giving them their true identity as some children later question the mother on why they are not using their father’s surname which may cause havoc in families.
When asked how women facing challenges to get documents for their children can be assisted, Bulawayo Provincial Registrar, Mrs. Jane Peters said single mothers are allowed to take birth certificates for their children using their surnames. However, there is provision for them to come back later on with the father of the child to change the surname of the child from the mother’s surname to the father’s surname.
“It is a requirement that when a mother is coming to collect a birth certificate, she should carry with her a birth record and the father of the child’s ID. We will not issue out a birth certificate without these necessities. If the mother does not have the father’s ID, we cannot give the child the father’s surname because it means that the father does not want the child to use his surname,” said Peters.
Highlighting other challenges that single mothers face in terms of acquiring documentation, a source from a women’s organisation who requested anonymity said failure to get birth certificates is not the only problem that single mothers face as they still go through so much stress to get consent from absent fathers whenever they have to travel with their children, even when the children have all the required documents.
Amanda Mguni (not her real name) often faces challenges in getting consent from her ex-husband whenever she has to travel out of the country with her child. She expressed concern, stating that the current registration system should be changed as she is forced to sleep with her ex-husband several times in order to get the affidavits signed so that she can travel with her child out of the country.
“It’s just so depressing, I am now married to someone else, but because I need to travel out of the country with the child, the father has to sign the papers. I am then forced to sleep with him to get the papers signed,” said Mguni .
Ruth Ncube, a Tsholotsho villager said her efforts to get a birth certificate have been fruitless even when she had the requisite documents of the child’s father. Ncube said her 10-year-old child obtained a birth certificate very late because she had failed to acquire a birth record.
“I was deeply pained to see my 10 year old son’s first day at school. He had to start Grade 1 at that late age due to complications in getting a birth certificate. Having gone through many hurdles, including paying a bribe from the little savings earned after a struggle just for my son to get a birth certificate as I did not have the required birth record, is a story of anguish and pain. The pain adds to the previous one of having to deliver at home as a single mother, with no one to help out,” Ncube said.
“They say it is every child’s right to have a birth certificate ,but it took me years to get one for my son only because I failed to deliver at the hospital ,it is just so unfair , government should do all it can to protect rights of children and women and eradicate a rather oppressive patriarchal system,” she added.
Manger Sobani, a councillor in Tsholotsho advised that when mothers deliver at home they should write a letter to the chief within a week explaining why they delivered at home so that they are able to get a birth record from the hospital, however many women fail to do that as they would be recovering within that week, leading to them failing to get birth certificates for their children.
“We do not blame pregnant women for delivering their children at home because clinics are far, and sometimes they do not know their date of delivery. Be that as it may, they should make it a point to get a letter from the chief within one week so that they get birth records.”
Even though a birth certificate is a fundamental right for children and a basic human right, about 2.4 million children under the age of 17 years translating to 39 percent of minors in the country do not have birth certificates. The statistics are contained in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development’s Zimbabwe (2016-2017) Interim Poverty Reduction strategy paper (I-PRSP)
“Children aged between 0-17 years totalling 2,4 million had no birth certificates, constituting 38.9 percent. Rural areas had a higher proportion (45,7 percent) of children aged 0-17 years with no birth certificates compared to urban areas with 21,7 percent,” reads the document.
These cases clearly show the need to evaluate systems and processes that guide the Department of Registry.