The importance of birth registration as a means of protecting the human rights of children in Zimbabwe can never be undermined. Birth registration marks the legal existence of a child and brings with it enormous potential for the child to enjoy other rights immediately from his/her early birth. The reality is that non-registration impacts on the realisation of many other rights for children including the right to education and health. The importance of birth registration is emphasised in both international and regional instruments as they provide that every child shall be registered, “immediately “after birth. Further the Constitution of Zimbabwe emphasises that every child has the right to the “prompt” provision of a birth certificate. Provision of a birth certificate is therefore a fundamental human right, not a privilege. Unfortunately eversince March 2020 after the President announced a total lockdown of 21 days due to Covid 19 the Registrar Generals office had been closed. The office continued to be closed even with the various relaxations of the lockdown restrictions whereupon most government institutions became functional from June 2020.
As an organisation that ensures access to justice for every Zimbabwean child, Justice for Children approached the High Court with an urgent chamber application against the Registrar General and the Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage for the provision of a birth certificate of a minor child who had been born prematurely in June 2020 and whose parents required her birth certificate in order to access the child’s right to health through registering her on her father’s medical aid and funeral policy. Applicant, who is the mother of the child, had approached the Registrar’s office in Mutare in an effort to register her child but was turned back as they were only entertaining emergency travel documents. On the final order the organisation sought for the offices of the Registrar General to be opened and become fully functional since the Registrars services are very essential for purposes of child protection moreso during this Covid 19 era.
The Application was filed on the 8th of September 2020 and the matter being represented by Justice for Children’s child rights expert, Pamellah Musimwa was heard on the 14th of September 2020 before Honourable Justice Manzunzu whereby an order by consent was granted to the effect that the Registrar General should consider the Applicant’s circumstances in requesting the issuance of a birth certificate on an urgent basis to her minor child in the interim whilst the final order was to the effect that the Registrar General was directed to issue the birth certificate of the minor child.
Further JCT in partnership with Zimbabwe NGO Forum issued a letter of request to both the Registrar General and the Ministry of Health and Child Care to the effect that the office of the Registrar and all his services especially birth registration should be declared as essential services for purposes of child protection at all times. Although the provisional order being sought by the organisation in the urgent chamber application was amended, the case combined with the letter of request strategically had an impact on the relevant authorities as it was a wakeup call for Cabinet to approve the reopening of the Central Registry to commence its services, including issuance of birth certificate in this Covid period on the 15th of September 2020. This will go a long way in ensuring that the prompt provision of a birth certificat