Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Child birth registration in SA remains challenging

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Aug 29, 2021

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ALLOW me to recognise the presence and message of His Majesty King Letsie The Third.

What then accompanies our appreciation are the lessons emerging from my sister-in-law’s life.

Some people are born into this world, live their lives and depart without a trace. Ideally, every birth, marriage, divorce and death should be recorded. Yet they are not. The parish system used to fulfil this role by issuing baptismal certificates to confirm that a birth occurred.

Modern systems of civil registration are commonplace in countries although coverage of registration of events in some remains low.

The existence of this challenge became stark when we buried my sister-in-law last week, in Mafeteng Lesotho. She had passed on after a lengthy illness. She leaves a big gap as a farmer and an ardent fighter for children’s rights.

Together with other women, she led the building of Matholeng Safety House for abandoned children. It was there where her funeral services were held. It is the aspect of fighting for children’s rights that brought home the challenges that communities face in registering the birth of children.

This was a matter African statistics agencies and home affairs departments decided to address since 2010 when African ministers resolved that the scandal of invisibility should be solved, so that everyone should leave footprints of their existence.

There are several challenges to the registration of births in particular. Parents may, for one reason or another, be reluctant or hostile about registering a birth. Or, there might be difficulties to register because a birth notification was never issued at birth. It is these two examples I would like to discuss.

In 2014, my counterpart in Botswana requested me to trace the birth notification of a citizen of Botswana who had to apply for an ID for Botswana. Alas, the young man had no birth notification document and he had no proof that he existed.

The place of birth of the lad was Mafikeng but his parents were native Batswana.

The task I was requested to undertake was to get the birth notification certificate from Victoria Hospital in Mafikeng where the lad was born.

It was a simple task, I thought, but when I started, the picture was more complex. Victoria Hospital was taken over by a private concern and the birth notification records were not part of the deal. These could not be traced.

This implies that the young lad does not exist and, as such, he will be deprived of education opportunities unless the problem is solved.

The second was about one of the young women who grew up at Matholeng Safety House and who spoke on behalf of the house residents.

She was so overwhelmed by emotions that she could say only two or so sentences. These were that her father refused her birth to be registered and were it not for the relentless fight that my sister-in-law waged against the against patriarchy, she would not have got her birthright documents that opened her path to life. Countless stories were told of Matholeng Safety House where orphans and abandoned children are cared for and groomed to be full citizens.

The scourge of Covid-19, as a health and economic pandemic, unveiled the overdue requirements and demand for bolstering human solidarity and the significant contribution of the social care economy. This is as relevant in Lesotho as it is in South Africa.

May Mamokhoenene Lehohla’s soul rest in peace.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and @Palilj01

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites

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