Age is not just a number

A man views national identity cards on display at Umoja 2 Shopping Centre in Lanet, Nakuru on January 30, 2017. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A majority of Kenyans with errors in their identity cards trace them to the mass registrations done in secondary schools.
  • A majority of Kenyans with errors in their identity cards trace them to the mass registrations done in secondary schools.

When registration of persons officers from the government visited her school in 1981, Ms Mueni Mutunga innocently backdated her birthday by a year to get the document her peers were getting.

The allure of being declared an adult was irresistible and the peer pressure from other girls left her holding an ID card that showed she was a year older.

Two years later, she successfully corrected the mistake to reflect her real age and even proceeded to acquire other documents like her passport using the corrected ID.

Then the high school mistake came back to haunt her in 1996 after the government introduced the new generation identification cards. On applying for replacement, the ID card she was issued with indicated the older age.

“I didn’t give it much thought because I felt this matter was already corrected and now it is coming up again. In fact I only picked up the issue during the Huduma Namba registration when I presented all the documents and expected they would be harmonised in the process,”Ms Mutunga told the Sunday Nation.

The matter would, however, emerge strongly during her interview for the position of a judge in the Industrial and Labour Relations Court, where the Judicial Service Commission panel chaired by Chief Justice David Maraga demanded to know why she had an ID and a passport showing different dates of birth.

High school excitement

On her fourth job, she had never thought the mistake made out of high school excitement would return to fix her before a panel grilling her for a top position within a major arm of the government.

Although that may not have entirely been a major contributor to her failure to get the job, it brought to the fore one of the odd moments a candidate would face during such interviews.

The lawyer, who currently heads the legal affairs department for the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, now says she has come to take the matter more seriously after the JSC interview.

A majority of Kenyans with errors in their identity cards trace them to the mass registrations done in secondary schools.

While most students complete Form Four at about 18 years of age, there are many others who leave before attaining the mandatory age of acquiring the document. Peer pressure from classmates pushes many to make the mistake Ms Mutunga made.

The issue of different dates in identification documents came up strongly for the Department of Immigration, which in 2016 denied several applicants passports after their dates of birth differed in birth certificates and national IDs.

“If your birth certificate and identification document have different names or there is an omission of a name later in either, you cannot apply for a passport.

“Kindly make corrections on the wrong date of birth before submitting your application,” the department tweeted back a response to an applicant who claimed his dates of birth on birth certificate and ID did not match.

Identification documents

He had been registered in high school and according to him, he had ignored the mistake until several years later when he applied for a passport.

The vigorous vetting in government offices, which sometimes may require one to appear before parliamentary committees, means you must correct your documents if you want to rise to the top.

The age discrepancy in identification documents recently saw a senior parastatal head lose his job after a court ordered his replacement for falsifying age.

Tana and Athi River Development Authority boss Steven Githaiga Ruimuku had worked at the agency for many years, rising from a trainee financial analyst to deputy managing director before climbing to the top.

He even served his first term successfully until March 2018, when his term was renewed.

The Union of Civil Servants went to court armed with copies of his two national IDs, marriage certificate and passport to prove that the MD had not only changed his name from Spehen Maina Githaiga to Steven Githaiga Ruimuku, but had also changed his date of birth to delay retirement by five years.