Born in Zimbabwe to Zimbabwean parents but stateless for 19 years

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By Thandiwe Garusa

“SHE was born in 2003 and only got a birth certificate at the age of 19 after a long battle.”

Smangele Ndebele (50) a Child Care Worker (CCW) and foster mom in Tsholotsho’s Mvundlana village,  narrated a sad story of one girl who had been for long deprived of basic needs due to statelessness.

Ndebele is one of the care workers who were identified and trained by the government in partnership with UNICEF to help mobilize stateless community members to acquire legal identification.

She described how difficult it was to get what many Zimbabweans may take for granted: a birth certificate, for a vulnerable girl in her community.

Without one, a child in Zimbabwe cannot access basic needs like health care, register for examinations, get donor aid and obtain education or funeral policy legally.

Ndebele and her team identified a girl who stays with her grandmother as both parents are late.

The grandmother never obtained a birth certificate, the same as her late children and grandchild.

Due to a lack of awareness, the grandmother was not willing to get a birth certificate herself.

“It was a very long battle convincing the grandmother to get a birth certificate and then a national ID for us to be able to help her grandchild.

She was born in 2003 and only got a birth certificate last year at the age of 19 after a long battle,” Ndebele told this publication during a media tour last week.

The girl has since gone back to school and is now in grade six.

Under Zimbabwe’s law, anyone born to a Zimbabwean parent is automatically a citizen, but documenting it may be complicated.

“We ask for help from anyone”

Margaret Marandure (74) another care worker in Tsholotsho bemoaned the lack of resources, limited infrastructure and logistical challenges.

She said they either rely on help from well-wishers or their hard-earned money.

“We were trained to assist vulnerable stateless children get identification, even those who do not have parents at all, we help them get assistance from the social welfare department.

“However we do not have enough resources, the biggest challenge being transport.

“We also have to take care of these children using our own resources, sometimes we ask help from anyone, Non-Governmental Organisations, churches, and any other well-wishers and if we do not get the assistance we just do it on our own,” Marandure said.

Margaret Marandure

She also requested the government and donors to give them transport and help train more care workers.










Birth registration and statelessness in Tsholotsho

Costs, literacy, limited access to technology and records, lack of awareness, remoteness and a history of broken relationships with the government, make applying for a birth certificate complex and have left countless children without official recognition, denying them access to basic rights and services.

In Tsholotsho, children experience several barriers to gaining access to and receiving their birth certificates.

Most children are born in either Botswana or South Africa where their parents stay illegally in search of greener pastures.

These children are then smuggled to Zimbabwe where they will be left without any legal identification.

“Many vulnerable children here are born in diaspora and do not have access to at least a baby clinic card, they cannot attend school or get health services and their parents then smuggle them here where they will leave them staying with grandparents while they go back to the diaspora,” Marandure added.

She also said in some instances, childcare workers are threatened by ignorant parents.

“Some parents even die without getting themselves and their children legal identification, some babies are dumped by their mothers, some parents can even threaten and tell you that this is my child and I do not want to get them a birth certificate.”

The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in partnership with UNICEF through funding from the Swedish embassy have joined forces to shine a spotlight on rural children who have not had their births registered or obtained a birth certificate.

Through the initiative, they managed to register more than 3500 children under a mobile registration blitz that started last year.

Since the program started, in eight wards alone they recorded 3542 initial registration of children under the age of 16 years, 600 initial registration for persons above 16 years, 46 duplicate birth certificates for children under 16 years of age, 625 duplicate birth certificates were issued to persons above the age of 16 years and 58 death certificates during the mobile registration blitz.

However, there is a lot more work to do in this area.

The social development director in the social welfare ministry Tawanda Zimhunga said any child, even those with no traceable parents, can now be assisted.