Civil societies ask government to change birth registration rules

Several civil societies have formally requested the South African government to change the rules about birth registration following a landmark legal victory in the Grahamstown High Court.

The case was brought by a Makhanda ( Grahamstown ) father who was barred by officials from registering the birth of his child.

The court found that these rules, impacting single dads and couples where one or both partners are foreigners, were unconstitutional.

On Tuesday four prominent human rights organisations in South Africa, the Scalabrini Centre in Capetown, the Legal Resources Centre and Lawyers for Human Rights called on government to immediately change the regulations regarding the registration of births.

“Hundreds of children are forced into undocumented lives and denied their basic rights due to their parents’ documentation status,” the joint statement issued by the three organisations read.

They asked government to amend regulations around birth registration to ensure that a child’s right to birth registration is not contingent on their parents’ documents.

“A birth certificate is a vital document. It establishes a child’s identity, nationality and existence in a state. It is required to access services such as education and health. Without a birth certificate, a child does not ‘exist’ in the state’s eyes.

“This child cannot access school, is at risk of statelessness and is vulnerable to falling under the radar of child protection services. Hundreds of children exist in this shadow-state, due to the restrictive rules around birth registration in South Africa,” their statement read.

“Children are being penalised and are denied their constitutional right to birth registration – simply because their parents hold expired documents,” it further stated.

The organisations said while it seem to be a logical requirement that  foreigners in South Africa carry valid documents obtaining these are complex and sometimes impossible.

They specifically named the dilemma of asylum seekers who must travel to other provinces to find a refugee office and then still battle long queues, are denied access and have to deal with corrupt officials.

“As a parent with an expired permit, you are not able to register the birth of your child,” Sindisiwe Moyo of the Scalabrini Centre explained.

“The country is sitting with a huge number of children who are not known to exist in South Africa.” 

The three organisations said they welcomed the judgment by the Grahamstown High Court and that it echoed the calls of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which officially recommended that South Africa change the regulations around birth registration.

Hundreds of children are forced into undocumented lives and denied their basic rights simply due to their parents’ documentation status. The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Centre are calling for the South African government to change regulations around birth registration to ensure that a child’s right to birth registration is not contingent on their parents’ documents.

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