By Rumbidzai Francisca Zengwa
Over a hundred people in kuManyeda Shantytown in Glenview, behind Glenview 1, do not have birth certificates. In an interview by NewZimbabwe.Com, the community indicated that the lack of access to documentation was generational. Children who were abandoned at birth have no birth certificates; mothers who gave birth in their homes have no birth records and are failing to get birth certificates. In kuManyeda the unavailability of national identity documents has severely impacted on children as they have not been able to register in schools, thereby affecting their right to education.
Section 35 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution guarantees citizenship to people born in Zimbabwe and descendant of persons born to Zimbabweans. In January, we reflected on the connection of human rights to documents of national identity. We said the enjoyment of other rights to access health facilities, social services, education, freedom of movement, and freedom to form a political party is dependent on documents of national identity. What is happening in KuManyeda community,is clear testimony that national identity documents establish a foundation for the enjoyment of rights entitled to citizens
Unfortunately, the inherited generational problems of unavailability of citizenship documents such as birth certificates have impacted heavily on vulnerable groups such as children who have failed to access education. We must be reminded that section 81 of the Constitution obligates the State to promptly ensure the provision of a birth certificate to every child born in Zimbabwe and outside of Zimbabwe if born to Zimbabwean parents. Further section 19 of the Constitution implores the GoZ to take appropriate legislative policies and other measures to ensure the best interest of a child. Section19(1) provides the following:
“The State must adopt policies and measures to ensure that in matters relating to children, the best interest of the children concerned are paramount.”
The inaccessibility of national identity documents has profound implications for human rights recognized in the Zimbabwean Constitution. Having reflected on the challenges faced by the community of KuManyeda, particularly children, community members, GoZ and duty bearers must take heed of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commissions’ recommendations regarding policy reform to guarantee access to documents of citizenship. Lack of citizenship documents for this community and over 2 million others identified in the ZHRC report, “An Inquiry into Access to Documentation” is symptomatic of the deeper socio-economic and political crisis faced by vulnerable and marginalized groups. As evidenced in KuManyeda, the failure to acquire documents is causing the deepening of socio-economic inequalities.
In September 2020, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) produced and launched the national inquiry on access to documentation report. In the ZHRC inquiry, communities faced several challenges in accessing identity documents, including lack of birth confirmation records, costs of accessing services and payment modalities, undocumented mothers, generational challenges, and orphaned and abandoned children.
In the national inquiry report, the ZHRC made, in our opinion, two critical recommendations. ZHRC recommended developing a new policy and legal framework responsive to the communities’ needs and vulnerable groups identified in the national inquiry. In these recommendations, the GoZ was recommended to implement the devolution strategy to fulfill section 264 of the Constitution to address the lack of decentralization of DRG services. The Commission further recommended that the Births and Deaths Registration Acts be aligned to the Constitution to remove discriminatory provisions to allow fathers to register their children and include the new emerging contemporary family structure trends. ZimRights believes that if implemented, these recommendations will address the problem of undocumented “citizens.”
We recall the decision by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (the Commission) on access to documents of citizenship in Kenya. In dispute between the Kenyan Nubian Community and the Government of Kenya, the Commission was called upon to decide on access to citizenship and documents of identity of the marginalized Nubian community. A commission was established by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to look into the Nubian community case. Overshadowed by the history of colonialism, Nubians were discriminated against as they were required to go through a long and complex vetting procedure to obtain the ID card that is necessary for recognition as citizens. To qualify for an ID, Nubians had to: obtain the identification cards of their parents and grandparents, which may be impossible to find; appear before a committee of elders, and swear an oath and pay a fee before a Magistrate. As a result of these burdens, many individuals from the Nubian community faced enormous hurdles in acquiring IDs.
In its decision the commission said, “the lack of IDs cards also effectively renders many Nubians stateless and liable at any point in time to expulsion or arrest. This certainly is an affront to their dignity as human beings deserving of equality with other Kenyans and equal protection of the laws governing Kenyan citizenship.”. As rightly put by the commission, the right to the recognition of one’s legal status is protected in many international and regional human rights instruments. The right to the recognition of juridical personality implies one’s capacity to be the holder of rights and obligations. The recognition of one’s legal status is an indispensable requirement for the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the African Charter because it grants an individual recognition before the law.
In our simplified report on the national inquiry: An analysis of the ZHRC’s National Inquiry on Access to Documentation, ZimRights noted that citizens also have a role to play in ensuring that they get national documents. Citizens are encouraged to take the initiative to learn about registration requirements for national documents, to register children as early as possible, and avoid carelessness that results in generational non-documentation. Communities and families must encourage each other to be registered. The government of Zimbabwe, duty bearers, and all stakeholders must take all the necessary steps to implement the recommendations by the ZHRC to ensure the enjoyment and foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe.