ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) condemns the illegal practice by some government-run hospitals which are in the habit of withholding birth confirmation records for newly born children and detain mothers for failing to pay user fees after giving birth.
At its mobile legal clinics conducted in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces, ZLHR has noted a pervasive practice where hospital authorities deny parents access to their children’s birth confirmation records because they could not pay hospital fees after giving birth. As a result, children end up failing to obtain a birth certificate in violation of their rights to hold a birth certificate, an identity and citizenship.
The conduct of hospital authorities negates children’s right to identity and the right to education as children are unable to register at school without a birth certificate.
While ZLHR appreciates that the services rendered by hospitals ought to be paid for, we believe that withholding children’s birth records to induce payment is a violation of children’s right to an identity.
ZLHR believes that it is against the law to withhold children’s birth confirmation records as doing so is denying children their right to identity as they need to be registered in terms of the Zimbabwe Births and Deaths Registration Act (Chapter 5:02), and a birth confirmation record is required for such registration.
Liberty is a fundamental human right protected in terms of section 49 of the Constitution and the “imprisonment” of mothers merely on the ground of inability to fulfil contractual obligations is expressly outlawed.
This practice is not only inhuman and degrading treatment but illegal and abuse of authority and has resulted in some children missing opportunities such as education, access to some basic services such as health care and employment because they don’t have the essential identity documents.
Authorities at government-run hospitals must appreciate that by detaining mothers and their children, they are committing the delict of false imprisonment as health institutions are not designated places of detention and have no authority at law to restrict people’s liberty for non-payment of medical fees.
In conclusion, ZLHR urges government-run hospitals to make use of appropriate legal remedies to recover debts owed instead of withholding children’s birth confirmation records.