'Foreign-born children should not be deprived of birth certificates'

15 November 2018 - 07:29
By Ernest Mabuza
Image: Alaister Russell

Four human rights organisations have expressed concern over proposed changes by the department of home affairs to discontinue issuing birth certificates to children born of foreign parents.

The department last month published its proposed new regulations to the Births and Deaths Registration Act. The closing date for comments is Friday, November 16.

Where previously all children were issued with birth certificates, irrespective of their parents’ nationality - as is required by the constitution and international law on children’s rights - the new regulations propose that foreign children be issued with a “confirmation of birth”.

On Wednesday, the Centre for Child Law, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and the University of Cape Town Refugee Law Clinic urged the department not to go ahead with the proposal.

The organisations described the potential change as problematic for a number of reasons, including that every child had the right to a birth certificate and that the proposals violated the child’s right to a name and a nationality in terms of the constitution.

The organisations said that, in terms of international law, it was the responsibility of the country of birth to issue a birth certificate, regardless of whether citizenship was also granted.

The draft regulation requires children to present their “confirmation of birth” to their embassy in order to obtain a birth certificate from their country of nationality.

The organisations said this was particularly harmful to the children of refugees and asylum seekers, because the parents could not approach their embassies - which would jeopardise their protection in South Africa.

They said the proposed regulations were also harmful to orphaned and abandoned children who cannot prove their nationalities because their parents were absent.

The organisations said South Africa had been criticised by a number of international bodies on its violation of international law on the child’s right to a birth certificate and  legal identity.

The organisations said the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child had recommended that South Africa “review and amend all legislation and regulations relevant to birth registration and nationality to ensure their full conformity with the Convention, including through the removal of requirements that may have punitive or discriminatory impacts on certain groups of children.” 

The organisations said that, instead of implementing this recommendation, the department was lowering the standard by removing birth registration for foreign children entirely.

“Without a birth certificate, children face immense barriers to basic services and human rights such as education, health and social services,” the organisations said in a joint statement.

“The birth certificate also allows stateless children to apply for the safeguards which give them citizenship where they have no other citizenship.”