What is birth registration?

As we will discover in this article, it is set in international law that every child – wherever they are born, and whoever they are born to – must have their birth registered. This means that the birth is officially recorded by a branch of a government or state. In South Africa, children who qualify for citizenship, or children of permanent residents and refugees, are recorded in the National Population Register when their birth is registered. (Children born to South African citizens outside of South Africa are also registered in the National Population Register.) This is a national database of such children born within South Africa.

Normally, this is completed upon a child’s birth, and takes the form of a birth certificate that is usually entered into a form of population register. At a minimum, a birth certificate sets out the child’s legal name, their date of birth and their place of birth. A birth certificate can prevent a child from becoming ‘stateless’ – a situation in which an individual has no recognized nationality at all.

Some parents struggle to have their child’s birth registered. In South Africa, this can cause huge problems, creating barriers to accessing services, basic child and human rights, education and health service. Section 28 of the Constitution of South Africa, which requires that the ‘best interests’ of the child to be the priority in all decisions and matters concerning the child. The South African courts have ruled, many times, that it is in the best interest of the child to have a birth certificate and access to a nationality. However, as we shall see, various regulations and practices in South Africa are resulting in hundreds of children existing without birth certificates in South Africa today.