Lockdown leaves thousands of newborns without birth certificates

15 May 2020 - 15:13 By Mpumzi Zuzile
UCT researchers say an estimated 20,000 children are born each week in SA.
UCT researchers say an estimated 20,000 children are born each week in SA.
Image: Pexels

Nearly 100,000 children born during the lockdown do not have birth certificates.

Home affairs spokesperson Siya Qoza said all birth registrations stopped when the lockdown started but registration services had resumed a week ago.

According to the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town, an estimated 20,000 children are born every week in SA.

With the initial birth registration freeze, the number of unregistered newborns could be in the region of 100,000.

The institute’s programme manager Paula Proudlock said the impact of not having a child’s birth registered was huge, given that a mother cannot register for child support grants unless the child's birth is registered.

Births are usually registered at the medical facility where the child is born, but because of the lockdown home affairs birth register officers are not working.

A family has up to 30 days to register a birth. Registration of birth after 30 days is considered to be a late registration and additional requirements apply.

Qoza said home affairs officers involved in birth registrations started going back to work last week, but only at 30% of capacity.

Qoza pointed out, however, that Sassa allowed  children to be registered for three months while they waited for a birth certificate.

Even though he did not know how many children were born during the lockdown, Qoza said the department would increase its working hours.

“We factored in the possibility of having to deal with a backlog in our planning to resume birth registrations. This is reflected in our operating hours and staff numbers. The department of home affairs has been registering children since the beginning of the implementation of level 4 regulations,” he said.

To cater for the period when newborns could not be registered during level 5 of the lockdown, Qoza said: “Parents whose children were born from February 26 2020 are allowed to register their children without the requirements of additional documents. We are not penalising parents whose children were born during the lockdown.”

During level 5 only limited services were offered at home affairs, like issuing identity documents and death certificates. Last month, the government increased its child support benefits as part of its Covid-19 relief package.

As part of his R500bn relief package, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the child grant would be increased by R300 in May, and R500 from June to October. All other grants would be topped up by R250 per month for six months while a special Covid-19 grant of R350 would also be rolled out for six months for the unemployed who got no other grants.

The SA Development and Research Unit at UCT provided modelling on the possibilities for increasing social grants to the presidency towards the end of March.

On April 1, in an article published in The Conversation, researchers from the unit wrote that without urgent intervention, the extreme poverty rate among vulnerable households was likely to triple as a result of the lockdown.

About 45% of SA workers were not eligible to claim from the fund, according to the unit.

On April 4 the Children's Institute at UCT wrote to Ramaphosa requesting the child grant be topped up by R500 per month per child for six months, as per the unit's modelling.

It pointed out other forms of social support, like the school nutrition scheme that feeds 10-million children, were no longer available.

“This measure [the grant increase] is critical to mitigate the impact on children and families during the lockdown as well as the current and future economic shocks created by Covid-19. The [grant] is the simplest, quickest and most effective way to get cash into millions of poor households that may well otherwise face food insecurity and debilitating poverty,” the letter read.

It acknowledged that the lockdown was important to contain the virus, but added that it would increase poverty and unemployment.

Health department spokesperson Popo Maja was not available for comment after questions had been sent to him.


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