A few years ago, in 2012, we hosted the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Conference in Durban where African Ministers responsible for civil registration gathered to declare our commitment towards developing and strengthening the continent’s birth registration systems.
It was at this important meeting where we all affirmed the significance of civil registration and agreed to deal a serious blow to what is known as the Scandal of Invisibility – a phenomenon where people are born and die without leaving behind any trace of their existence legally.
It is critically important to note that Africa comes from a dark past where those who oppressed us sought to deny our existence systematically by excluding us from claiming our birth-right through citizenship assertion and implemented largely fragmented and isolation-oriented policies that perpetuated the marginalization of the majority of our people.
It is therefore encouraging that the South African government, through the Department of Home Affairs, has prioritized civil registration.
Our policies and legislation, in this regard, have been developed to continue to bolster our resolve towards achieving an improved and efficient civil registration.
In South Africa, the right to a name, identity, citizenship and to be registered at birth is a universal human right and is guaranteed in section 28 of the Constitution.
According to the Births and Deaths Registration Act, any South African citizen or foreign visiting parents must give notice of the birth of their child within 30 days.
In developed countries, civil registration is something that has been entrenched and practiced routinely.
Where birth occurs at a health facility, a birth certificate is issued before the mother is discharged, thus confirming the child’s citizenship.
In the African continent, we still have a long way to go.
Many Africans are born, proceed to live their lives and eventually pass on without their existence and citizenship status ever being acknowledged and recorded through a birth record and accompanying certificate of birth.
To this end, birth registration is a crucial element in a person’s life as it provides visible evidence of a state’s legal recognition of his or her existence as a member of that particular society.
The only way definitely to establish the identity of a person is to record their birth, and certify their identity as defined by the mother and father of each new human being.
Accordingly, civil registration is at the heart of democracy.
For a person fully to access and exercise their rights, they must first be recognized as a citizen.
Our national vision for the future, the National Development Plan Vision 2030, envisions a capable and developmental state, which provides the institutions and infrastructure necessary for the economy and society to operate.
To provide effective governance and administration, this capable state must plan proactively and make intelligent use of technology.
The NDP stresses the need for government to have accurate demographic data.
Excellent civil registration, underpinned by universal early birth registration, is a critical tool for government to have accurate, real-time data on the total number of citizens and their age profile.
This is of enormous importance to multi-sectoral government planning, particularly in areas such as education, health and labour.
It helps us to determine the number of early-learning centres, schools, higher learning institutions as well as hospitals that ought to be built as we seek to better the lives of our people through efficient forecasting.
Our partnership with the Department of Health has ensured that we increase our footprint at hospitals to 391 and we will be establishing more offices at these facilities to reach more people.
Through this collaboration, parents can apply for birth certificates immediately after birth and receive them on the spot.
In doing this, they will be saving themselves time and the energy to visit a Home Affairs office and stand in long queues, in environments completely discomfiting to infants.
The registration of birth within 30 days will help us to deal with the scourge of late registration of birth process.
We have since made it onerous to attain citizenship through the LRB process because of the many risks associated with this practice.
Those unscrupulous individuals who did not qualify to be in the National Population Register had devised means to use the LRB somehow to claim the right to be declared South African when in actual fact, they were not.
International experience has demonstrated that early and efficient birth registration carries less risks of fraud and contributes towards national and personal security.
Since implementing the decision to make it difficult to register birth through LRB, we have noticed a remarkable decrease in fraudulent registration of births.
This has also helped drastically reduce social grants’ abuse and theft either through people registering children that do not exist or registering as theirs children of other people just so that they claim social grants payment.
Genuine cases that need our attention are now being resolved speedily because, naturally, there will be those that have been struggling to register their births through no fault of their own.
We are continuing with concerted efforts to clean the NPR and a new National Identity System that will be more reliable, credible and integrated to help navigate easily and smoothly between South African citizens and foreign nationals.
The emphasis is that birth registration should be the only entry point into the National Population Register with the target being 90 percent of all births in South Africa captured within 30 days by 2018/19.
In this regard, we continue to strengthen the National Stakeholder Forum as an important partner with whom communities find it easy to connect and raise issues of concern pertaining to services offered by the Department of Home Affairs.
The Stakeholder Forums include members of the local communities, local and provincial government structures as well as several national departments including Health, Social Development and Home Affairs.
They are deeply rooted in the communities and are an important link that has, over the years, been credited with the mobilization of communities particularly around the need for child registration within 30 days of delivery, organizing youth to apply for identity documents while encouraging the collection of uncollected IDs.
It is therefore apt that today we sign this partnership agreement with Procter & Gamble precisely to reach out to those rural, poor and previously disadvantaged communities through co-ordinated efforts jointly to provide support and resources at our disposal to undertake awareness campaigns to inculcate a culture among South Africans to register births within the prescribed 30 days.
This Public-Private Partnership will help us achieve our objectives by promoting advocacy and mobilising citizens around early birth registration at grassroots level, pre-natal clinics and in maternity wards across the country.
Through this arrangement, we are hoping to benefit from Procter & Gamble’s skills and assets in the delivery of services for the benefit of the general public.
We are excited that you have come on board to travel this journey with us.
This partnership solidifies the relationship we have had over the years, albeit not formal.
The private sector plays an important role in government’s endeavours to change the lives of our people for the better.
We look forward to making more strides in our efforts to achieve universal birth registration a reality in our country.
Together with these changes, we will soon fully automate child registration, do away altogether with the abridged birth certificate to remain with only one form of certificate which is full and ensure the inclusion of the details of parents on the passports of minors.
We are very excited about this initiative and South Africa will be the better for it.
I thank you.