Summary of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, no. 51 of 1992 (with Amendments


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This Act sets up the laws that regulate the registration of births and deaths in South Africa. It applies to all South Africa citizens (whether they are in the country or not) as well as permanent and temporary residents.

According to the Act, the Director-General of Home Affairs is the custodian of all records and documents relating to births and deaths in South Africa. Any information in the documents will be included in the population register. Inclusion in the register means that the births and deaths have been registered. People who do not live in South Africa will receive a certificate of birth or death from the State. This certificate counts as registration.


[edit] Registration of Births

By law, the birth of every child born alive must be reported to the State within 30 days of the birth. A forename and surname must be given to the child before a birth certificate will be issued.

If a child’s parents are unmarried at the time of birth, but subsequently marry, they may apply to have the birth certificate changed to record details as if the parents were married at the time of birth.

An adult born out of wedlock can also request to change his or her birth certificate if the parents subsequently marry. An adult (a person who has reached the age of 18) may also apply to have their forename (or forenames) changed. Special conditions apply for surnames, however. If a child has been abandoned, a social worker or authorised officer must register the birth. If the parents of the child are found at a later stage, the State may change the birth certificate to record their details.

If a child with a South African mother or father is born in another country, notice may be given to a regional representative of South Africa.

[edit] What happens if a child is still-born?

If a child is still-born, their death must still be recorded, and the medical practitioner present at the birth must issue the relevant certificate. In the absence of a doctor or midwife, any person present at the birth can make a prescribed declaration to the State, and a burial order will be issued. If there is any doubt about circumstances of the child’s death, the police must be informed and no burial order will be given.


If the child’s parents are married, the child will take the surname of the father, the surname of the mother, or the surname of the mother and father joined together as a double-barrelled surname.

If the child’s father is unknown, the child will take the surname of the mother. If the parents are unmarried, the child can take the surname of the father, but the parents must jointly request this, and the father must acknowledge himself in writing. Similarly, the parents (married or unmarried) can ask for the child to take the mother’s surname if they so wish.

As long as there is consent, children born out of wedlock can also take on the surname of their stepfather. A child whose father has died or whose parents’ marriage dissolves, can also take on the mother’s maiden name, a stepfather’s surname or a guardian’s surname. The natural father’s consent is required, but if the woman has sole guardianship, his consent is not needed.

Nobody can use a surname if it has not been included in the population register unless authorised by the State (and then only for good reason). This does not apply to a woman, who, after marriage (including Muslim or Indian customary marriages) takes her husband’s surname, or a divorced, widowed or married woman who takes on any previous surname or who adds a previous surname to a current surname.

[edit] Registration of Deaths

If a person dies of natural causes (e.g. illness or old age), any person present at their death or any person who finds their body must get a medical certificate that explains the cause of death. The issuing of a death certificate counts as registration of death, and only a medical practitioner can do this. If the medical practitioner is satisfied that the death was due to natural causes, he or she will issue a burial order, giving permission for the body to be buried or cremated. There are special procedures for still-births.

[edit] What happens if somebody doesn’t die of natural causes?

If the medical practitioner is not sure that a person died of natural causes, the police must be informed, and an inquest must be held. When the medical practitioner investigating the cause of death is certain the corpse is no longer needed for investigation, he or she must issue a certificate that confirms this, and the police may register the death (without stating a cause of death) and authorise burial.

[edit] What happens if somebody dies outside South Africa?

If a South African citizen dies in another country, their death will be registered according to a death certificate issued by the country in which they die. If the corpse is to be buried in South Africa, the State will issue a burial order on the strength of the foreign death certificate.

[edit] What happens if a foreigner dies in South Africa?

If a non-South Africa dies in the country, the State has the power to issue a burial order for the corpse.

[edit] Offences

The following are offences:

  • failing to inform the State of any birth or death,
  • giving false information to the State about a birth or death,
  • losing, destroying or damaging birth certificates,
  • counterfeiting any document that has anything to do with births or deaths,
  • giving false information about birth,
  • charging or receiving fees that are higher than the legal amount, or
  • unreasonably withholding a certificate or document that has anything to do with births or deaths.
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