On the refusal of hospitals to give new mothers their children’s birth confirmation records over non-payment of maternity fees
The question, whether it is legal for hospitals to refuse to give new mothers their children’s birth records because the mothers cannot afford to pay maternity fees has been asked numerous times.
Birth confirmation records are supposed to be issued free of charge and the issuance of a birth confirmation record is a separate issue from the payment of maternity fees.
Section 81 of the Constitution provides for the rights of children and specifically says that every child under the age of eighteen years has the right to the prompt provision of a birth certificate (Section 81 (1) (c).
The Registrar General’s office is very clear that a birth confirmation record from the hospital or clinic where the child is born is required in order for the parents to be given their child’s birth certificate. This means that without the birth confirmation record, the child cannot get a birth certificate.
The birth certificate is the beginning of the formation of the child’s identity. Getting a birth certificate is a right and that right belongs to the child not to the parents. The parents of a child actually break the law when they fail to (without good reason) or refuse to get the child’s birth certificate as soon as possible after the birth.
The child’s rights should therefore be separated from the responsibilities of the parents. It is the parents of the child who are responsible, when they owe the hospital maternity fees. It is not the child’s responsibility to pay maternity fees.
The refusal to give the mother her child’s birth record is a violation of the child’s right to a birth certificate and also to an identity and citizenship. It is important that every Zimbabwean citizen is entitled to documents that authenticate or verify his/her citizenship and identity. A birth certificate is one such document and each time a hospital refuses to hand over a birth record they are frustrating that child’s entitlements.
Hospitals’ refusal to hand over birth records is clearly a violation of the Constitution.
It is important to note that the obligations imposed by the Constitution are binding on every person, whether natural persons (human beings) or juristic persons (companies, institutions such as hospitals, schools). Hospitals have the duty to respect the Constitution and to give full effect to its provisions. Consequently the hospital cannot frustrate a child’s entitlement to a birth certificate and o to citizenship.
When it does so, it acts illegally and against the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which is the highest law of the land.