No birth certificate, no school

2017-04-20 06:47
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Learners' challenging environment

Equal Education researcher Nika Soon-Shiong's Nyamazela [Perseverance] highlights the appalling conditions at Eastern Cape schools.

Cape Town - Aphiwe*, a nine-year-old girl, could not find a place in a school. Her mother, Sinothando* is a 30-year-old South African woman born in a remote Eastern Cape village.

Sinothando’s parents died when she was a child. Her only other known relative has also died. She has never been able to have her own birth registered, GroundUp reported.

As a result, Sinothando was unable to register Aphiwe’s birth with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). She also did not have a clinic card for her daughter.

The DHA is able to register a birth with proof of the mother’s identification and the clinic card, or a certificate of birth from the hospital where the child was born.

Because Sinothando had no proof of identification, she was unable to register her daughter for school.

To get admitted to a school, provinces require pupils to have an official abridged birth certificate or identity document. Failing this, the principal must ask the parent(s) to get the documents from the DHA.

The principal must inform them that their application for admission to the school would only be considered once the school had written proof from the DHA that the parent(s) has made an application for the documents. The application for admission is then provisionally accepted for three months on condition that the child obtains a birth certificate or ID (or proof of application of one of these) from the DHA.

Assisted by a local NGO, Sinothando made repeated attempts at the DHA, over 18 months, to register herself and Aphiwe, using Aphiwe’s certificate of birth obtained from the nearby day hospital.

Two academic years missed

Sinothando first approached the DHA’s Nyanga office. She then discovered that her mother’s name was not on the DHA’s internal systems, and there were no records of Sinothando’s fingerprints. This meant she had never been registered at the DHA.

Months later, the supervisor at Nyanga DHA said there was no trace of her and they could not help her. Sinothando was given a form and told to go to the Khayelitsha DHA. There, she was told that to be registered she would need a social worker to write a letter to the DHA explaining that Sinothando had no proof of identity.

The NGO helping Sinothando ensured the social worker’s letter was sent. On following up at Khayelitsha DHA, the NGO was informed that Sinothando would have to bring a relative to prove her birth. With no ties to her village of birth, no known living relatives (aside from Aphiwe), and a rare clan name, the search for a relative was long and difficult. Ultimately, it was unsuccessful.

In September 2016, Sinothando went to the Wynberg DHA. Again, her efforts proved fruitless. She was told she only needed to produce a record from a school she attended in her village. Sinothando had only completed grade three, and could not remember the name of her school or any of her teachers.

All this time, Aphiwe remained out of school. By age nine, she had missed two academic years.

In breach of the law

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) was aware of Sinothando’s struggle. Yet it failed to intervene or temporarily place Aphiwe. The NGO and Sinothando visited the local WCED district office on numerous occasions, to no avail.

Repeatedly they were told that the WCED was unable to register her on its database until she had a birth certificate number, or proof from the DHA of an application for registration. Until then, Sinothando was told there was nothing the WCED could do. Sinothando was sent to more than five department officials for assistance, and still Aphiwe could not get into a school.

The Constitution guarantees all children the right to a basic education. The South African Schools Act (SASA) seeks to give effect to this right. Section 29 of the Constitution grants the right to all persons in the country. There is no qualification to this right: it also applies to unregistered pupils without birth certificates.

According to Section 3 of the SASA parents whose child is due to turn seven must ensure their child attends school. SASA says the provincial education MEC must ensure there are enough places for every child in the province to attend school.

The Constitution (section 28) states the best interest of the child is of paramount importance. Similarly, section nine of the Children’s Act reads: “in all matters concerning the care, protection and well-being of a child the standard that the child’s best interest is of paramount importance, must be applied”.

The Equal Education Law Centre intervened in Aphiwe’s case and the Western Cape education MEC averted a court hearing by agreeing to allow her to attend school.

Sinothando and Aphiwe’s case is far from unique. There have been a number of cases of children not being able to secure a school place because they lack documents the DHA is supposed to provide. When children are denied access to education because they don’t have the right documents, the DHA and the provincial education departments are in breach of the law.

* Not their real names.

Rinquest is an attorney at the Equal Education Law Centre.

Read more on:    cape town  |  home affairs  |  education

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