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Human Rights Commission to probe birth certificates in SA

Children born in South Africa don't automatically qualify for an unabridged birth certificate, which is crucial to accessing services or travelling outside the country.

Children born in South Africa don't automatically qualify for an unabridged birth certificate, which is crucial to accessing services or travelling outside the country.

Published Apr 9, 2017


Cape Town – The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is to review why children born in South Africa to foreign parents are not automatically awarded citizenship by the Department of Home Affairs.

Advocate Priscilla Jana, deputy chairperson of the SAHRC, said she been unaware that unabridged birth certificates were not issued to children born to foreign parents.

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“We will look into this matter,” she said.

Department of Home Affairs (DHA) spokesperson Thabo Mokgola said the department’s policy was that “for record purposes… a notice of birth” would be issued instead.

Cape Town attorney Joy van der Heyde said she had filed nine notices against DHA in the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town. They related to the department’s alleged refusal to issue unabridged birth certificates to foreign parents.

In another matter, Van der Heyde accused the department of failing to issue an unabridged birth certificate to a refugee whose daughter was born in the country.

“The assumption that if a child is born in this country, they automatically get citizenship, irrespective of whether their parents are foreign or not, is false,” she said.

“A notice of birth is issued by the hospital, this is not an identity document on which the child can be registered at school or obtain social grants. This notice, therefore, does not assist the child in being able to enforce his or her rights,” Van der Heyde pointed out.

Said Mokgola: “In cases where one parent is South African, the South African citizen may apply for the child’s birth certificate.”

But Van der Heyde said that was also problematic because “the name of child’s South African parent would be reflected on the unabridged birth​ certificate, but not the foreign parent’s name”.

In one case, Van der Heyde said, a child was in ICU and required a series of operations.

“Her foreign parent has a paid-up foreign medical aid that has to bear the costs but because the child does not have an unabridged birth certificate reflecting the foreign parent’s name, which the medical aid requires, the costs cannot be paid.

“Also, this means that the foreign parent cannot travel in and out of the country with their own child, because their name will not be on the unabridged birth certificate. There are cases where the High Court ruled that this is unacceptable.”

Van der Heyde said it was “sad that there are three million adoptable children in the welfare system”, many of whom are foreign children whom prospective foreign adoptive parents are willing to adopt and who end up staying in the system because they don’t have unabridged birth certificates.

“They don’t have a name, identity number or a country of origin. That means we have this quota of children in the adoption system, in the social welfare system who can’t be taken care of properly by parents who want to adopt them.

“Without an unabridged birth certificate, everything is affected – from accessing medical assistance and social grants to schooling.”

Esther Lewis, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Social Development, said they assist all children in need of care and protection, and the child’s best interests will​ always be taken into consideration.

And all children must have birth certificates.

Without birth certificates, the adoption process for any child, whether South African or a child born here of foreign parents, can’t be finalised, Lewis explained.

“It is standard practice to issue foreign children born in South Africa with handwritten birth certificates from the Department of Home Affairs.”

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