Birth Registration “crucial activity that needs highlighting”: Southern African Bishops

Logo for Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Day 2020

On the occasion of the third African Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS)  Day commemorated Monday, August 10, members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have raised concerns over the failure by authorities in their respective countries and the continent at large to prioritize birth registration, a documentation gap that denies children access to basic rights.

“One crucial civil registration activity that needs highlighting is birth registration. In South Africa, birth registration is taken for granted as it has not only been common practice of our system for a long time but is a legal obligation as well,” SACBC members have said in their Sunday, August 9 statement shared with ACI Africa.

They indicate that birth registration in other countries in Africa “is not a common practice and there is a critical gap in establishing the legal existence of a child because many have not been registered at birth.”

The members of the three-nation conference make reference to the 2019 UNICEF Birth Registration Report, which indicates that “there are 166 million children under the age of 5 or 1 in 4 children of the same age group whose births have not been recorded” with 87 percent of them being in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The report paints an even grimmer picture of 237 million children under the same age group of five having no birth certificates,” they say in their August 9 statement signed by SACBC Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale.


They add, “From similar experiences or situations, children can easily become invisible and rendered vulnerable as they lose out on their rights because of lack of documentation.”

Based on UNICEF’s assertion that “society first acknowledges a child’s existence and identity through birth registration,” the Catholic Church leaders in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana underscore the need for registering children at birth saying such documentation is a basic right that gives “access to many other rights, to be vigorously protected and promoted.” 

Such rights, SACBC members note, “are important as they promote Human Dignity which according to our Catholic Social Doctrine, is one of the most fundamental if not the fundamental principle.”

The Southern African Prelates are also concerned “that despite the Constitutional right and court ruling for all children to have access to education, many learners in South Africa still experience obstacles in accessing basic education because of lack of proper or no documentation.”

The situation affects mostly migrants and some refugee children, SACBC members say, suggesting, as a way forward, that “the Church calls on all member states to ascertain proper universal birth registration irrespective of nationality or legal status of parents.”

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“Children cannot be denied access to education because She (Church) views education of children as an integral part of the development of a human person in the spirit of the 1967 Populorum Progressio (On the Progress of Peoples),” SACBC members say.

In the two-page statement, the Bishops further “call on States to be mindful of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 16. 9 and SDG 17.9) that allude to providing legal identity for all, including birth registration.”

The SDGs seek to foster “not only the building of statistical capacity needed but also strengthening civil registration systems that will produce essential indicators including birth registrations,” SACBC members say, adding that the SDGs are “foundational for achieving not least, sustained human development.”

“If therefore, there is no legal proof of identity, children are left out and consequently, in many cases, end up being more vulnerable in many ways including statelessness,” they emphasize and continue, “It is for this reason in support of the SDGs that the Church calls on governments, states and regional bodies” to ensure that no child remains stateless.

In marking the third African CRVS Day, SACBC Bishops encourage “member States and governments to increase their capacity of civil registration systems as that will hopefully ascertain that there is no exclusion of any human person from accessing their fundamental and human rights.”


“This should also include the migrants and refugees as they too carry the same intrinsic human dignity like everyone else,” SACBC members add.

Instituted in December 2017 during the fourth Conference of African Ministers responsible for Civil Registration held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, the 2020 CRVS Day is being marked under the theme, “Civil Registration and Vital Statistics: An Essential Service for Monitoring and Mitigating the Impact of Emergencies.”

“It is a pertinent theme that reminds governments and member states that reliable and accurate figures or statistics can make an enormous difference in times of emergencies and calamities or pandemics like Covid19,” SACBC members say in their August 9 statement.

The figures and statistics, the Catholic Church leaders South Africa, Swaziland, and Botswana add, “also ensure that authorities have essential information necessary for planning, implementation and monitoring.”