Girls will no longer have to be referred to as spinsters on their death certificates after a grieving father recounted how he was unable to describe his dead daughter as a child.

Darrin Zammit Lupi, who recently lost his daughter, Rebecca, to cancer, was horrified that he had to describe the 15-year-old as a spinster when he went to the Public Registry to fill in the declaration for notification of death.

The form requires that all details about the deceased person are filled in, including their legal status, which lists options ranging from married to separated, divorced, widow and spinster – all unsuitable for children.

“I found it extremely derogatory and offensive,” Zammit Lupi said about the form.

He asked whether he could register Rebecca as a “child” and was told that this was not possible.

But Citizenship Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat has taken immediate steps to address the anomaly that was brought to his attention, acknowledging that the term was “old school, demeaning and belonging to a Charles Dickens novel” and instructing ID Malta to modify it.

As things stand, the details to fill in a death certificate are the same for someone aged two to 90, he pointed out, even though, legally, a 15-year-old cannot even be married.

Old school, demeaning and belonging to a Charles Dickens novel

The law requires all details on the death certificate to identify the deceased person and took into account non-Maltese people  who might be married at 15 and younger. But this was the exception not the norm, the parliamentary secretary said.

Muscat said the situation – a software issue – would be rectified within days.

“It is a technical matter and could just require a minor change to the online form, offering the option to leave out the information if it is not applicable and relevant to the individual,” Muscat said.

When registering the death in person, instructions could be given to leave this part out if it is not relevant, he said.

In a Facebook post, Zammit Lupi, a photographer who documented his daughter’s battle against a rare and aggressive bone cancer for just over a year during the pandemic, said he “loathed” the word spinster and thought it was “horrible” to refer to Becs, as she was known, in that way.

Comments from followers pointed out that the “archaic, awful and inappropriate” term had probably never been questioned before and so remained unchanged.

The fact that it did not make sense – a spinster is an older woman who has never married, while the legal age to marry in Malta is 18 – was also pointed out as well as the additional pain the “bureaucratic side of things” was adding to what the bereaved parents have already been through.

Nationalist Party MPs David Thake and Claudette Buttigieg also promised to raise the matter and try to change the law while Winston J. Zahra offered the help and support of the Lisa Marie Foundation, set up to safeguard the well-being of children and youths.

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