Wiped off the ‘book of life’

Wiped off the ‘book of life’

….Lesotho’s aged without IDs fail to access pensions…

LERIBE – BROKE, unskilled and too old to engage in manual labour, 62-year-old ’Mantšang Leaooa cannot wait to qualify for old age pension payouts.
But her biggest worry is that she may fail to benefit from monies paid to old people (starting from age 70) because, for the State, she is non-existent.
She will need a national ID to benefit for such a payout, and she doesn’t have one.

Neither does she possess a birth certificate, never mind her advanced age.
And it is not because she has not tried.
If anything, she cannot forget the struggle she has endured just to try and get a birth certificate to be recognised as a citizen.
She gave up when she realised that she could no longer afford to pay for the process.

A birth certificate costs just M4.50, but that is too steep for her especially after factoring in what she has to fork out in transport costs from her rural village of Ha-Leaooa to Hlotse where the home affairs offices are.
Already, her failure to obtain identity documents has cost her.
“Most services I seek from government offices require that I have an ID,” she says.

Leaooa cannot open a bank account or cash a cheque because she does not have the required national ID.
Earlier this year, she tried again to get identity documents.
Like in the past, she gave up.

Leaooa says she went to Hlotse, about 80 kilometres north of the capital Maseru and paid M200 for a return ticket.
“When I arrived at the Home Affairs offices I was told that the system was down and so my application could not be processed,” Leaooa says.
“We were told to wait for a while but as we were still waiting there was an electricity cut in the whole area and we were told to go back home,” she says.
“I never went back because I could not raise another M200,” she says.
Leaooa survives on agriculture, which is not so profitable these days because of climate change-induced droughts.

Acquiring an ID will put her in a better position to receive the elderly pension when she reaches the age of 70 years.
Her situation is not isolated.
Many elderly people in rural areas are failing to access pensions paid out by the government because they do not have national identity documents.
The cost of acquiring the documents and the failure by the government to take active steps to reach out to these people has left thousands of them in a fix despite their dire living conditions.

Many of them, such as Leaooa, have given up or are close to.
“The cost of going there is too high,” says Leaooa.
Another villager, Ntsotuoa Nkebenyane, a man who says he is “in his midles-age”, says he has twice tried to register but was turned away by officials for reasons he thinks were invalid.
Nkebenyane says he gave up because “I could not afford to waste money only to be returned without getting services”.

“I depend on agriculture for a living but now that we are facing drought I am facing poverty,” says Nkebenyane, who used to grow maize, potatoes and sorghum.
He says he used to harvest enough to feed his family but now he is not able to provide for them.

Dozens of villagers from Ha-Leaooa, Ha-Seshote, Ha-Chelane, Ha-Kanono, Ha-Khenene, Ha-Kokoana, Ha-Majela villages told thepost that they have given up seeking to register for birth certificates.
They complain that home affairs officials are not forthcoming with information on the documentary requirements for one to register for identity documents.

“They seem happy to send us back home saying a certain document is missing,” one of the villagers said, preferring not to be named.
“When you come back with the document they said was missing, you will be shocked when they tell you of another missing document which they never mentioned in the first instance,” she said.
Other villagers claim that they do not have birth certificates because “civil servants in Hlotse are lazy”.

They say the government workers open the offices at 9am and close them after lunch without caring about the long queues outside the offices.
At times, they are forced to sleep at Hlotse to hold a place on the queue in hopes of being served the next day.
Villagers say they have the option of going to Thaba-Tseka for services and the cost could even be cheaper compared to traveling to Hlotse.
The problem: There is no road linking them to Thaba-Tseka.

The Ministry of Home Affairs says registration for identity documents is a human rights matter and also serves as an important instrument for planning about health, education and other developmental issues.
In particular, maternal and infant mortality serve as important indicators of the nation’s health, thereby influencing policy development, funding of programmes and research.

According to the Home Affairs Ministry, accurate and timely documentation of births and deaths is essential to high-quality statistics on these vital matters.
After years of lethargy, the ministry is beginning to take some steps to assist people such as Leaooa, the villager who had given up on ever acquiring national identity documents.

In an attempt to solve the villagers’ civil registration problems, the Home Affairs Ministry spent three days at Ha-Seshote last week to bring services closer to the people.
About 40 villages benefited from the initiative.
The villagers were given an opportunity to register for births and IDs.
One of the parents who managed to register her children for birth certificates, ’Mataoana Ramahapu from Ha-Seshote, says she is happy that her children now have birth certificates after the struggle she went through.
Ramahapu says she tried registering her children’s births in Thaba-Tseka but always failed.

She says because there is no road she always arrived late and would find a long queue at the Home Affairs office.
Ramahapu says the last time she tried was in March this year. After that, she threw in the towel.
The Director of National Identity and Civil Registration (NICR), Tumelo Raboletsi, says many children and parents at Ha-Seshote have not registered their births.

“We found out that eight out of 10 children have not registered,” he said.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Mokoto Hloaele, said if the community is being forced to return home without any valid reason they should call Raboletsi.
“You should report before going home,” he said, without giving the people contact details.

Hloaele said a birth certificate gives a person an opportunity to be visible in Lesotho through a well-functioning and proper civil registration and vital statistic system covering the entire population.
“This is done to protect a person’s rights and give him other important documents he needs even the services,” he said.

Hloaele said individual identification records and documents generated from a civil registration system provide the basic legal documents to individuals.
He said this is in fulfillment of the fundamental human rights that every individual is entitled to.
Hloaele said that every person has a right to a name and identity from which other human and civil rights are founded.
The country so far has registered over a million births, over a million IDs, 4 529 marriages and  12 319 deaths since 2010.

The United Nations Children’ s Fund (UNICEF) representative to Lesotho, Anurita Bains, said African ministers responsible for civil registration in 2010 committed their governments to address strategic interventions and policy issues in order to reform and improve CRVS.
“The government of Lesotho in heeding this call,” Bains said.
Bains said the government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, has taken on the task of issuing 1.8 million Basotho, including children, with documents for all vital events, births, deaths, marriages and divorces.

Bains said there has been notable progress in Lesotho in this regard. She gave the example of registration and certification of civil and customary marriages that opens the door for Basotho who are traditionally married to be factored in the system.
Bains said only civil and customary marriages were duly registered in the past. She said this has many benefits, especially for women and children born in customary marriages in terms of inheritance rights.

Bains said another example is that of efforts to reach children without discrimination to ensure that they are registered.
She said registration should ideally be done immediately after birth and all children should be issued with an authentic birth certificate.
Bains said this important undertaking by the government of Lesotho through the ministry is commendable.

She said it is in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and Lesotho’s Children’s Protection and Welfare Act (2011).
Bains said almost a quarter of facilities (46 health facilities out of 216) are registering babies soon after birth.
She said in 2019 alone, over 25 000 children under the age of five were registered.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane


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