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Lack of birth certificate challenges children in rural areas (UM News)

December 2, 2022

The Zimbabwe constitution declares that everyone has a right to citizenship documents. Many children, however, do not have birth certificates, and obtaining national identification cards is a challenge. 

Representatives of five United Methodist-related primary and secondary schools reported an average 44% of students (1,448 of a total 3,274) lack birth certificates.

“The figures are worrying,” admitted the Rev. Munyaradzi Timire, education secretary, Zimbabwe East Conference. “In our system, the church’s approach is for the heads of schools to work with the registrar’s office and assist parents or guardians in acquiring the birth certificate.

“We encourage the church to write letters of reference, which guardians or parents can use as supporting documents for the registrar’s office to use. This will help process identification documents so that learners do not miss seating for examinations and enable them to attend sports competitions.”

The Rev. Oswell Kaseke, Harare Central District superintendent, said the church works closely with local leaders and government departments to facilitate the acquisition of the documents.

“Headmasters write letters to the registrar’s department confirming that the child is a learner enrolled at our school,” Kaseke said. “The headmaster also raises awareness and sensitizes parents or guardians on the importance of these documents. Where the parents are not present for one reason or the other, the supporting structures — traditional and political leaders — will assist in the process.” 

Major challenges, he said, include “lack of finances, broken families, deaths of parents, and parents without birth certificates and identity cards themselves, creating a vicious cycle.”

Tapfuma Tamanikwa, acting deputy headmaster at the church’s Dindi Secondary School, said, “we face these challenges annually, especially from orphans and other vulnerable children, despite the government putting in place modalities for easy acquisition of the birth certificate.

“Without a birth certificate, a child cannot participate in any sport activity competitively because most sports participation has age limits. The student cannot participate in a sporting event if the school cannot prove the age of that student,” Tamanikwa said. 

“As a school, we sensitize and share with the guardians on the importance and effects of a birth certificate, or lack of it, on the child.”

Liberty Sithole, headmaster for United Methodist-related Mashambanhaka Primary, said the school does awareness campaigns during parents’ meetings. 

“We also educate the learners about their rights to birth records and assist with affirmation letters to the registrar.”

The government has implemented several initiatives aimed at facilitating the registration process. 

Charles Madamombe, headmaster of The United Methodist Church’s Muziti Primary School, noted that a recently conducted mobile registration program helped many to acquire registration certificates.

The Rev. Juliet Chirowa is connectional ministries director for the Makoni Buhera District and pastor-in-charge of Rusape Innercity Church. 

She said her circuit, through Church and Society outreach programs, helped grandmother Mirriam Garape, 89, secure birth certificates for three children in her care: Owen, 16; Tapiwa, 13; and Darlington, 13.

Since their father’s death, the children have been struggling to acquire birth certificates so that they can proceed with their education.

“Through the frantic efforts of the church,” Chirowa said, “… there was joy for grandmother Garape and the children after they managed to acquire birth certificates for all grandchildren and a national identification card for Owen. This proved that, as a church, we can help the community in acquiring the important documents.”

Tendai Rebecca Gurupira serves as area coordinator for the church’s Ministry with Women, Children and Youth. “As a church,” she said, “we have a child-protection policy document in place that says every Zimbabwean has a right to birth records, which includes the birth certificate and the national identity card.

“I encourage everyone to continue helping children to acquire these important documents to enhance a bright future for them.”