ISSUE 15 | 2015
[We thought that it is very important to share with you, on this platform, today’s address to the Early Birth Registration Indaba, in Durban, as it raises very critical issues for the Department and its partners around the significant matter of civil registration. Please read on...]
Civil registration is at the heart of democracy!
Civil registration is something which is taken for granted in developed countries. People are born, usually at a hospital, they receive a birth certificate as part of the routine administrative processes before being discharged, and their citizenship is confirmed as a routine matter.
In many developing countries, particularly in Africa, the converse is true. Many Africans are born, live and die without their existence and citizenship status being acknowledged and recorded through a simple birth record and accompanying certificate of birth.
Civil registration is at the heart of democracy. For citizens to fully access and exercise their rights, they must first be recognized as citizens. Similarly, for the state to fulfil its mandate of providing effective administration of public affairs, and the provision of public goods such as education, health care and other services, it must know who its citizens are.
Effective civil registration requires universal early registration of birth. This is recognized by governments and civil registration authorities worldwide.
The only way to definitely establish the identity of a person is to record their birth, and certify their identity as defined by the mother and father of each new human being.
For historical reasons, Early Birth Registration (EBR) has not been entrenched in South Africa. Before the advent of democracy in 1994, only white South Africans had their birth, identity and citizenship status confirmed and recorded at birth.
Only white South Africans were recorded on the National Population Register. Many black South Africans, whose identities and citizenship status were the responsibility of fragmented and underfunded homelands, did not consistently have their births recorded at all.
And the government of the day, presiding over a system of different levels of citizenship, rights and privileges for different races, did not see it in their interest to accurately recognize the identity and status of each member of our society, the majority of whom were black.
Thus, Late Registration of Birth (LRB) was a temporary necessity early in our democracy, to give meaning to the single, common citizenship ascribed to all South Africans. LRB however, presents risks. If birth is not registered early, a person’s identity and citizenship status is at risk, as is their access to government services.
If they are separated from their parents, for whatever reason, they can find themselves literally separated from who they are, forced to exist at the margins of society, unable to vote for the government of their choice, or participate easily and meaningfully in the economy.
In addition to these anti-developmental impacts, LRB creates an opportunity for non-South Africans to fraudulently access South African citizenship.
Because of the unique historical circumstance where black South Africans of all ages were encouraged to come forward and have their births registered, some foreign nationals seeking South African citizenship used this opportunity, with the connivance of corrupt persons inside and outside of the Department of Home Affairs.
It is important to note that it is not only corrupt Home Affairs officials who contribute to fraud.
It is also those in society, those few traditional leaders, religious leaders, principals and schoolteachers, who give fraudulent testimony on behalf of non-South Africans.
As we clean up the department, we need the support of all sectors of society to help Home Affairs to eradicate citizenship fraud.
We need all leaders in our society to refuse to participate in citizenship fraud, to discourage those who do and to report fraudsters and colluders to the South African Police Service, and the Department of Home Affairs.
Since 2010, we have intensified our efforts to entrench early birth registration and end late registration of birth. In that year, President Zuma signed the Birth and Death Registration Amendment Act into law. This made early birth registration a legal requirement, and strengthened penalties for late registration of birth.
Through the National Population Registration campaign, we have worked to register all South Africans and raise awareness about civil registration.
We have conducted LRB outreach and mop-up programmes using 117 mobile units to reach people who our office footprint does not.
We have worked closely with our stakeholder forums all over the country.
As a result of these efforts, we have gone from almost 200 000 births registered through LRB in 2010, to only 40 000 registered through LRB in 2014.
As we heard from Stats SA yesterday, the percentage of South Africans whose births have been registered, has increased from 69% between 1996 and 2001, to 89% by 2011. And we are hoping to see that increase significantly when Stats SA releases the latest data in the coming weeks.
This shows the impact of our NPR campaign, LRB outreach and mop-up efforts.
Universal early registration of birth is now within reach.
We will achieve this in two main ways: by entrenching early registration of birth at hospitals, and by ending LRB as a widespread practice through additional penalties and stringent measures after December 31st of this year.
Entrenching Early Registration of Birth at Hospitals
We have expanded online birth registration at hospitals, so that people can register the birth of their children and receive unabridged birth certificates before leaving the hospital.
If we can register all hospital births before leaving the hospital, we will come that much closer to universal early birth registration.
It reduces the risk of a child’s identity and status going unrecognized, secures our National Population Register by drastically reducing opportunities for fraud and is convenient for parents.
It saves parents having to make a second trip to a Home Affairs office, and queuing with people applying for IDs, passports, marriage and death certificates.
We now have online birth registration at 389 health facilities in the country, and we are encouraging our people to utilize them. All parents need to do is bring their IDs with them when they go to the hospital; and to name the baby at the hospital.
We know that there are people who say that they don’t know the gender of their baby. We are asking you to bring two sets of names. If we can register all births at hospitals where we have online birth registration, we will go a long way to universal early birth registration.
Most people who give birth at home will still bring their child to a health facility shortly thereafter for a check-up, where they can then be registered.
In that way, the only people who need to go to a traditional Home Affairs office to register a birth, will be those few parents who have given birth at a health facility without online registration, or who gave birth at home.
So please remember, by early registration of birth we mean immediate registration of birth. Our goal is to register all babies within the first 24 hours.
The 30 days is merely a grace period, it is not to say you must take 30 days.
Ungasali! Ending LRB as a widespread practice from 31 Dec 2015
To end LRB as a widespread practice, we are making it more expensive and more difficult from January 1, 2016. A birth certificate is free within the first 30 days. From 31 days, there is a fee, and that fee will increase the older you are.
The fee is to deter people from being unnecessarily lax, and to contribute to the costs associated with the additional checks and verification which will be conducted.
No one will be left behind.
Any genuine South African will always be registered by the Department of Home Affairs. But we cannot make policy and processes focusing on the exception. By continuing to make LRB easy and routine, we send the signal to people that it is acceptable, and we continue to leave a gap for fraudsters to exploit.
We cannot continue to cater for the exception, we have to promote the rule. So we need you to help us spread this message.
From January 1, 2016, registering births after 30 days will be more costly, and more onerous.
Make it easy for yourself, register your child’s birth immediately, before leaving the hospital, or within 30 days at a Home Affairs office.
Conclusion: EBR, the only way into the NPR
Fellow citizens, from January 1, 2016, there is only one way into the NPR. You are born, you receive a birth certificate. This birth certificate records your identity, your mother’s identity, and your father’s identity. If one of those parents is a South African, it confirms your identity as a South African. There is no confusion, no ambiguity.
You can be separated from your parents, your documents can be lost. The Department of Home Affairs will have a permanent record of your identity.
Universal civil registration based on early birth registration, is a development issue. It is at the core of our democracy. It enables you to access your rights, and participate in the economy.
It creates a record of your existence and family tree, which will be accessible for generations to come.
Thank you, as important partners and stakeholders of the Department of Home Affairs, for participating in this Birth Registration Indaba.
I trust, that through your deliberations, you have built consensus and momentum on entrenching early registration of birth as a standard practice for all South Africans, on ending the scandal of invisibility, and on ending late registration of birth while leaving no one behind.
This Indaba is only the beginning. We look forward to working with you to implement the programmes which will come out of this Indaba.
I wish you all a safe and happy festive season!
Minister of Home Affairs