Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Sons and daughters of no country

If amendments to the Births and Deaths Registration Act are approved, the children of migrants and other vulnerable groups might find it even more difficult to access basic services. Under the proposed amendments, these children will receive a notice of birth, which will have to be taken to their embassy to obtain a birth certificate.

Non-governmental organisations — including the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Child Law — have expressed concerns over the proposed amendments, saying that they amount to unfair discrimination on prohibited grounds in terms of the equality clause of the Constitution. They also violate children’s rights to a name and nationality in terms of Section 28 of the Constitution, as well as various instruments of international law.

The amendments also do not consider that it is dangerous or impossible for those who have fled their countries to approach their embassies for birth certificates; or that orphaned and abandoned children who cannot prove their nationalities because their parents are absent, and stateless children who do not have a country of nationality, might be prejudiced.

Pleas for compassion

The organisations have urged the department of home affairs not to pursue the amendments. “I cannot speak for home affairs, but considering the fact that there is no legitimate legal reason for discontinuing birth certificates for foreign children, we can only assume that the reason is political and an attempt to exclude foreigners from basic rights and society,’’ said Liesl Muller from Lawyers for Human Rights.

Anjuli Maistry from the Centre of Child Law expressed concern that abandoned, stateless and refugee children might never obtain a birth certificate and be deprived of basic services. “The amendments also prevent children who would otherwise qualify for citizenship by naturalisation from being able to naturalise. One of the requirements for naturalisation is a South African birth certificate. The amendments could be seen as an attempt to hinder or totally prevent access to naturalisation, which is unlawful,” Maistry said.

“A child’s access to their own birth certificate is barred because of their parents’ status in South Africa,” said Lotte Manicom from the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town. “Holding a valid permit in South Africa — especially a valid asylum seeker permit — is not a simple feat, especially with the ongoing closure of some refugee reception offices. It is in South Africa’s own interest to properly register those who are born within its borders.”

Rebecca Walker, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, confirmed the proposed amendment violated both national and international law. She added that it was unclear “how this can be justified in any way other than to serve political goals by appealing to anti-immigration sentiments”.

“The suggestion that by excluding non-nationals there will suddenly be more and better resources for nationals is not only misleading, but also deflects from the failures of the government itself. Furthermore, to tell non-national parents that their child no longer has the right to a name and nationality in South Africa is in effect telling them we do not care, while pushing them into higher levels of precarity,” she said. “Challenges already faced in accessing basic services, including healthcare and education, will now become even greater.”

When asked to comment on the proposed amendments, home affairs media manager David Hlabane said that the final regulations would be published “only when all relevant persons have been engaged”. He went on: “It would be presumptuous, at this stage, to begin to say the department has discontinued issuing birth certificates.” — New Frame

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Jan Bornman
Jan Bornman
Reporter at New Frame. Interested in migration, refugees and asylum seekers' stories. MA in Migration & Displacement.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

How to apply for the Covid-19 R350 grant

Asylum seekers with valid permits and caregivers will now also be allowed to apply for the reinstituted social relief of distress grant

Long arm of the riots still affecting health sector

The tumult in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has forced people to go without chronic medication and check-ups, caused shortages at the blood bank and disruptions in the vaccine roll out

Deadly result as state forces seize ‘loot’ in Durban

In Madlala, the police and army broke into homes in an operation to retrieve stolen goods. After they left, a woman lay dead in a pool of her blood behind a shack

Getting Covid-19 after being vaccinated can happen – but it’s...

Vaccines help to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but they are not without shortcomings. Here’s what they can and can’t do
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×