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South Africa’s birth registration system challenged over ‘unconstitutional’ requirements

South Africa’s birth registration system challenged over ‘unconstitutional’ requirements

South African human rights organization the Legal Resources Center (LRC) has initiated a legal challenge against the country’s Department of Home Affairs over the what it says are cumbersome requirements for establishing birth certificates for children born in the country.

The LRC, acting on behalf of 17 parents, last year, filed an application at the Cape Town High Court challenging the Birth and Death registration Act regulations as anti-constitutional, according to reporting by Mail & Guardian. Home Affairs is opposing the application.

For a birth certificate to be issued to a child born in South Africa, the regulations of the Birth and Death Act require a document showing proof of birth of the child (obtainable from the hospital where the child was born), submission of the child’s biometrics (palm, foot or fingerprints) and a certified copy of the parents’ identity document such as a valid visa, passport or temporary stay permit, among other requirements.

Speaking to South African broadcaster SABC recently, the LRC’s candidate attorney representing the parents in the matter, Muyenga Mugerwa-Sekawabe, explained that children end up not having birth certificates because their parents are unable to meet up with some of the requirements outlined in the Act.

Birth registration is vital in South Africa as it enables children, later on in their lives, to have access to a wide range of services such as admission into schools. Also, the national ID card can only be issued upon the presentation of a birth certificate.

“In addition to these, the parents are also obliged to submit all the requirements within a period of 30 days of the child’s birth,” said Muyenga.

This, he said, makes it difficult for many parents to comply with the demands, which means their children may not be able to obtain a birth certificate in their lifetime.

The official added that one common case reported to their office is that of children of asylum seekers, or non-South African nationals, some of who do not have papers or have papers which have expired and cannot be renewed within 30 days.

“As such, their children’s births cannot be registered. We also have cases of children whose parents are South Africans but who abandoned them at an early age of either five, six or seven. At the later age when the children require an ID, it becomes difficult for them as they don’t have any documents to prove their parentage,” said Muyenga.

The LRC has in the past couple of years received complaints from parents who have unsuccessfully tried to establish birth certificates because of the demanding regulations.

“The 30-day deadline requirement is also one of the issues being challenged. This is a problem for people living in very remote areas of the country and those with very low income who may find it difficult traveling to the nearest home affairs offices to register their children before deadline,” the LRC Attorney told SABC.

All of these difficulties, the Attorney explained, end up creating bigger problems in the future for children who do not have birth certificates.

“Without the birth certificate, you cannot open a bank account, and having a job will be more difficult. Having access to education and healthcare will be a very challenging thing to do. So, where these unregistered children find themselves is very precarious. They may have to depend on other people, for instance, to open a bank account for them,” he added.

Early this year, South Africa’s cabinet approved a bill for an integrated digital ID system, which seeks to harmonize the country’s databases.

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