BY KENNETH MATIMAIRE
THERE is a growing population of stateless children born to illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in foreign countries, new study reveals.
The study, titled Cursed with Statelessness: Consequences of Deprivation of National Identification Documents was conducted by the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP).
The research focuses on the challenges faced by children born in the diaspora and victims of political violence in acquiring national identity documents (IDs).
There is an estimated four million Zimbabweans in the diaspora who fled from political persecution and economic decay under Zanu PF’s misrule in search for greener pastures.
While studies on statelessness within the borders have been carried out, this becomes the maiden study that focuses on nationals in foreign land.
On one hand, the study identified a growing population of stateless children born in Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania by Zimbabwean parents with or without passports, permits or any other travel document.
“The study also found that some children were born in informal settlements like Diepsloot in South Africa where no birth confirmation can be obtained,” the study reads.
Diepsloot is a densely populated township in Johannesburg, inhabited by dwellers from different tribes, cultures, traditions and nationalities, many of whom have no access to basic services.
The 16 paged-document also indicated that most illegal migrants prefer ‘home deliveries’ to avoid being arrested and deported back home as that will result in disruption of their livelihood.
In some instances, such parents have no money to finance the hospital bills related to delivering children at a foreign health care institution.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), define a statelessness person as “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”.
Stateless people are restricted from participating in the economy, accessing jobs, opening a bank account, buying a house, opening their own businesses or entering legally recognisable marriages or family unions.
“They are also poor, marginalised, discriminated against, disenfranchised and politically excluded,” the study states.
The ZPP study further identified undocumented children born in the diaspora, who were brought back to Zimbabwe in rural settlements such as Matobo, Binga, Mutasa, Mutoko and Chiredzi.
“Whilst in the diaspora, these parents conceived and gave birth to these children, brought them back home and left them without birth certificates under the care of their grandparents or relatives and returned to their workplaces,” the study further reads.
The report cites the exclusionary legal framework and bureaucratic opacity and red tape as hindering free access to identification documents as the major hindrance.
Registration of children born outside Zimbabwe is dealt with in terms of Section 13 of the Zimbabwean Birth and Death Registration (BDR) Act.
This section stipulates that registration of birth of a child born outside the country by a Zimbabwean father can be given to the Registrar General (RG’s) office by anyone with knowledge of such a birth within 42 days if such a child is born in wedlock that is, by married parents as defined in section 2 of the BDR Act.
In the case of children born out of wedlock, that is, by parents who are not married, registration of birth can only be done by anyone if the mother of the child is by the time of such a birth a registered Zimbabwean.
“Nationality by ‘registration’ is emphasised here. It should be noted that the father or mother must be a Zimbabwean by ‘birth or registration’ not by ‘descent’ to be able to register birth of a child born in the diaspora. This means children born in the diaspora whose father is an unregistered Zimbabwean can only be registered if their mother is registered. In the case of both parents being unregistered, and in the case of children who were deserted by their mother and left under care of their Zimbabwean father who is unregistered, registering proves to be difficult as the law seems very silent about them,” the report reads.
For the purposes of acquiring “external birth certificates”, Zimbabwean parents by birth or registration are required to provide Zimbabwean passports and IDs; marriage certificate, acknowledged parentage if they are not married or foreign birth certificates.
The report argues that this provision has major limitations as it does not cater for children born outside the country to illegal Zimbabwean migrants who cannot provide a Zimbabwean passport or a foreign birth certificate for their children.
It also affects children born out of the country to unregistered Zimbabwean parents who do not have birth certificates to prove citizenship by registration. It further fails to accommodate children born in the diaspora and outside a health facility to Zimbabweans who are either illegal or unregistered illegal migrants.
“This entails that such groups of citizens are left with only one route to resolve the issue, they must return the child back home through illegal means and register them as children born inside Zimbabwe, ” states the report.
ZPP lead researcher Bekezela Gumbo said: “Children born in the diaspora to Zimbabwean illegal migrants faced rigid legal and structural exclusion from birth registration and the attendant enjoyment of citizenship rights and privileges.”
He added that they are deprived of their fundamental rights to education, health, shelter, employment or vote once grown.