It is a known fact that more Zambians do not have birth certificates. They go about their business and life is normal. And yet, one thing that people seem to care less about is that though they exist, there are no records to prove their existence.
The registration of births is a legal requirement in Zambia under the Birth and Deaths Registration Act, chapter 51, which came into effect on March 14, 1973.
The Act demands that the birth of every child born in Zambia be registered. It therefore means that the non-registration of a birth is an offence under the law. Can we, therefore, say that a number of Zambians are guilty of this offence? They are as long as they have failed to register the births of their children.
Apart from a live birth, the Act further states that even the birth of a stillborn should be registered. This also means it is an offence to fail to register a stillborn.
Perhaps the importance of registering a birth has not been stressed. It is not an everyday requirement for one to produce a birth certificate, but the fact that one day it will be needed, should move one to obtain the document.
A birth certificate is proof that one is alive (because there is also a requirement to register a death). If, therefore, one does not have a birth certificate, there is no proof that such a person exists.
We have come across cases where one is compelled to fish out a birth certificate to prove certain details that may be disputed concerning their existence.
One of the times when it becomes important to have a birth certificate is when a child is being enrolled into school. It is also needed when applying for a university place, employment or when obtaining a national registration card or a passport.
The school authorities, in their resolve to prove the details of the child being enrolled, need the birth certificate as a confirmation of the details.
It actually saves one a lot of time, and in some cases money, spent in looking for a commissioner of oaths to authenticate a document.
At this level, this does not help much because some authorities overlook the confirmation by a birth certificate and go on with the procedures of enrolling a child.
There are a number of programmes which government comes up with every so often. The lack of registration of births means that there is no accuracy in arriving at the number of children who are the intended beneficiaries. It is easier to get back to records to come up with statistics of children in a given area. This will help to plan for the children in a more concrete way.
There are a number of vices that affect children. If they are registered, the children stand a better chance of being protected, for example, from vices such as early marriage.
In an event where the age of the child is disputed, a birth certificate is the best document to prove the correct age.
While there are these advantages, the registration of births can become a reality for most parents if government helps to decentralise the registration office. The registration of births is only done in Lusaka.
If parents who are in Lusaka avoid the hassle of the registration office, what more a parent who is outside Lusaka? Distance and the hassle of travelling becomes a hindrance for one to register the birth of their child.
Even when some people live in the vicinity of the registration office, they have no idea about the importance of this undertaking and so they care less about registering the births of their children.
The registration office shoulders a responsibility to educate citizens and make them see the need to register the births of their children so that their existence is made official.
The registration office needs to move with the times. It beats the mind why the office should not be computerised when the rest of the world has embraced technology.
Technology will make the office efficient in the registration process, storage and retrieval of information whenever it is needed. The office should inspire confidence and maybe more people will see the need to register their children so that their existence is official.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail Editorials Editor.