39% of migrant children entering SA run the risk of being stateless – research survey

2019-07-07 07:07
(File, Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP)

(File, Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP)

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"I am Mbalenhle and I don't exist. I'm stateless. Sometimes to be undocumented I think is a curse. Your life is just stuck in a one-way. You can't even move on with your life."

These are the words of a young girl featured in a video shot by the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town - an NGO working with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees - and B-Yond TV. 

Scalabrini recently published research on foreign children who have migrated to South Africa from other African countries. According to the report, a large portion of the children participating in the study - 39% - have no documentation, placing them at a high risk of being stateless.

A stateless person is someone who is not considered a national by any state under its law.

"Children who are stateless - in that they have no established nationality at all - risks being denied their most basic rights. There is no record of their existence at an administrative level - and, as they exist 'under the radar', they are at a heightened risk of exploitation," said Lotte Manicom, Scalabrini's policy advocate.

"Such children can face difficulties in accessing education, health and the ability to build a future. They will not be able to matriculate, to open a bank account, to get a legal job, to marry, a library card or - if they were to pass away - a death certificate."

According to Scalabrini's research, which was conducted in Limpopo, the Western Cape and Gauteng, the problem of undocumented children was at its worse in Limpopo, where 85% were undocumented.

A quarter of children were undocumented in the Western Cape and 27% in Gauteng. 

Scalabrini found that in 30% of these cases, a social worker had attempted to document the child, with 21% approaching the Department of Home Affairs for assistance. 

Its report states that a lack of viable documentation options "would contribute to a large number of children remaining undocumented in South Africa". 

The majority of children with no documents were born in Zimbabwe (53%), followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (13%) and South Africa (12%).

"Birth registration is a key component to avoiding childhood statelessness, as a birth certificate certifies the place of birth, name and nationality of the child," read the report. 

Of all the children surveyed by Scalabrini, 25% only had a birth certificate.

"While there exists sections of the South African immigration and citizenship laws that theoretically cater for stateless individuals, the application processes are not formalized - so many such applications are often not responded to," Manicom said. 

"Recent court cases have ordered that the Department of Home Affairs develop regulations around certain applications. This would assist the applicants, and the state itself, to identify and respond to cases of statelessness. It is both in the interest of the state and the individual that such individuals are able to access some form of identification."

The study also found that the majority of children - 43% - migrated with their parents into South Africa but were no longer, for various reasons, in their care.

Another 27% entered as separated children and 27% entered South Africa alone.

In Gauteng and the Western Cape, the large majority of children did not choose to migrate to South Africa (90% and 88%), but in Limpopo, the large majority of children (72%) took the decision to migrate to South Africa themselves.

Read more on:    polokwane  |  cape town  |  johannesburg  |  education  |  health  |  migrants
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