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Opinion - The need for legal identity from the cradle to the grave

2021-09-16  Staff Reporter

Opinion - The need for legal identity from the cradle to the grave
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I was baptised when I was just four months old, and the baptismal certificate served as the only written (not legal) proof of my existence. 

I have never seen the health passport issued to me when I was born but, in all likelihood, it existed. 

My birth was eventually registered with the government, thereby establishing my legal identity, only nine years later. 

When the time came for me to enrol in high school, one of the required documents was a birth certificate. 

So, the birth certificate had to be dusted out of the metal storage safe, where it was securely kept. Lo and behold, the first name on the birth certificate was different from the one I had used throughout primary school. 

Forgetting former things and pressing toward the mark of getting an education, I started high school with a new first name… but I had a birth certificate, I was good to go. 

My story, despite it being a late birth registration and a mix-up with names, ended well. 

This may not be the reality of about 10% of Namibia’s total population who were reported to be without birth certificates in the 2016 Namibia Inter-censal Demographic Survey Report.  

The same Survey indicates that Namibia’s Population was estimated to be 2 324 388.

It would then mean that around 232 439 people were without birth certificates at the time.

 The Survey reveals the eligible population group for ID documents (i.e. above the age of 16, which is the minimum age set by the Identification Act for obtaining an ID) was 1 427 395, and 12.8% (182 337 individuals) of this eligible population group was without IDs. On the other hand, death registration is more comprehensive, with over 93% of deaths having been registered. Many births remain unregistered and others are registered late.

Civil registration refers to the recording of the occurrence and characteristics of vital events pertaining to a population. These events concern life and death, as well as family and civil status. 

By definition, civil registration must be universal, continuous, permanent, compulsory and must be done in accordance with legislation. In Namibia, this legislation is the Births, Marriages and Deaths Registration Act, 1963.

The legal identity of a person is established through the registration of birth. The legal aspect must be underscored because one must exist in the eyes of the law. This is the key difference between my birth certificate and my baptismal certificate; the former is issued in terms of the law and the latter is not. 

Birth registration results in the issuance of a birth certificate, which is later used to obtain a national Identity Document (ID). The law sets the requirements and procedures to be followed when registering vital events. Likewise, the issuing of IDs is also regulated by the law (Identification Act, 1996). 

UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 (SDG 16.9) calls for identity for all, including birth registration, by the year 2030. Coincidentally, the target for SDG 16.9 is 2030, the same year Namibia has set for the attainment of Vision 2030.  Namibia’s development vision and plans reveal a solid commitment to achieving universal birth registration, thereby establishing a legal identity for all from birth. To achieve social progression, the Harambee Prosperity Plan II has recognised that regularising the status of undocumented and stateless persons will help ensure there are no deaths as a result of hunger. The regularisation will result in establishing a legal identity for the affected category of persons. 

This week is a good time to have this public discourse as Namibia joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Identity Day on 16 September. This day is celebrated in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9, which calls for “Identity for all, including birth registration, by the year 2030”. 

The purpose of International Identity Day is to raise awareness on establishing the legal identity of individuals and empowering them to exercise their rights and responsibilities fairly and equitably in modern society. This includes access to services such as education, healthcare, banking, social grants, enforcing and protecting legal rights, as well as exercising the freedom of movement.

As Namibia celebrates this important day, we are to reflect on our individual and collective contribution to Namibia achieving universal timely birth registration, so that no person in Namibia falls victim to the “invisibility scandal”. 

Do we have unregistered children in our homes because the fathers are not available for registration, despite the law expressly permitting that a child may be registered on the mother’s surname? Choosing not to register a child under a circumstance like this is a choice made by the adult who has responsibility for the child but the one who is denied a legal identity is the child! A parent's choice not to acquire a birth certificate at birth, or at all, will affect the child adversely.  

Impediments to timely birth registration must be removed and every role player must bring their part to the table. This is in the best interest of the child.

All vital events in a person’s life cycle must be registered from birth (including adoption), marriage (including divorce and annulment) – and eventually death, essentially from the cradle to the grave. 

There must not be a break in this cycle because each stage matters – even the registration of death because the death certificate is key in enabling those left behind to claim their inheritance. 

The lack of legal identity results in what has been termed as the scandal of invisibility. As we take stock on International ID Day, let us decide not to be part of the scandal of invisibility. I am Tulimeke, and I support 16 September as International Identity Day. Join me; join us!  

*Tulimeke Wayera Munyika is a legal practitioner, director for National Population Register, Identification and Production, and Namibia’s 2021 ID4Africa ambassador. In this article, she expresses her personal views and not those of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security or the ID4Africa Movement.

2021-09-16  Staff Reporter

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