For many of children in Pietermaritzburg and around the country Wednesday was a happy day back at school, but some from Copesville might never see a classroom this year.These are the children of Lesotho immigrants who have been living and working around the city. On Wednesday more than a dozen children, ranging in age from four to 10 years, queued outside the Copesville Combined School in the hope of obtaining a place, again. They are the children of Lesotho women who have left their country to work in South Africa in the hope of finding work and a better life for them and their families here.They are all in the country illegally. As a result they have been unable to obtain birth certificates for their children.“They are South African children, they are born here. Home Affairs refuses to help us and refers us to the Lesotho government to obtain birth certificates. They in turn send us back to South Africa. We are in a hopeless circle.“My child is now 10 years old and hasn’t been able to attend school because of this. Every year it is the same thing. I am losing hope now — what future does my child have with no education?” asked a distraught Zanele Maduna.Manahano Ntsiki has had the same problem with her nine-year-old daughter Bonginkosi Busi. “Every year she is hopeful that something can be done for her. She is so excited and wants to learn. She doesn’t even know how to read or write. I try to teach her some things but I’m at work most of the time and it doesn’t help,” said Ntsiki.Nosamkelo Khupiso has nine-year-old twins who have also not been to school.“It’s a big worry. These children are not allowed at school and we sometimes have to leave them alone. It’s dangerous here for girls to be left alone,” she said.Liteboho Mofo, who was hopeful of getting her five-year-old son Rajab Mbele enrolled, said she understood the reason why they were not given birth certificates for their children, but asked for some leniency.“We have been living and working here for more than 20 years.“Our children are born here — they are South African. This is home for us, for them. The government must assist us, if not for us, then please for the children,” pleaded Mofo.Thobile Ngubo, who runs a crèche in the area, said most of the children who did not get admitted to school were sent to her. “It’s very difficult. There are big age groups here,” she said.“Sometimes the bigger children don’t want to come to the crèche to be with the small children.“They then turn to drugs and gangsterism, the girls are taken advantage of and risk being raped.”A source in the education sector said the schools were bound by regulations set out by the department, but many schools turned a blind eye to the policy of admission by birth certificate only.“There are instances when these kids with no birth certificates have been accepted into the system from Grade 1. There’s no hope of them ever getting it because of their parent’s illegal status in South Africa.“These children go on to Grade 12 and eventually end up buying birth certificates just so that they can write their matric exams,” said the source.But accepting children without birth certificates affects funding received at the school as those without papers are considered as non-existent and therefore not provided for by the Department of Education in its allocation.This in turn placed a burden on the already stretched resources at school level.The source said it was not easy to accept older children who had never been to school into the foundation phase because of the challenges it presented.“You can not have a 10-year-old with a class of six-year-olds in Grade 1. It just doesn’t work like that,” he said.Copesville Combined School principal Lungisani Mhlope declined to comment and referred The Witness to the Education Department.Provincial Department of Education spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said they were ready to receive the children but only once the Department of Home Affairs approved their birth certificates.Almost 1 million kids affectedLast year the Department of Education confirmed that almost one million children could be denied access to public schools unless they obtained birth certificates as a matter of urgency.This issue, highlighted by 37 Eastern Cape children who were not able to attend school for a number of years — or at all — because they did not have birth certificates, a prerequisite for enrolment, has now become the subject of a Constitutional Court matter.It was reported that at least 10 Constitutional Court justices, headed by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, in 2019 ordered that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, and the Eastern Cape MEC had to admit the pupils into the schooling system, or training centres, depending on their needs. This was pending the outcome of further litigation in which the Immigration Act and the admission policy for ordinary public schools would come under the spotlight.The Centre for Child Law is challenging the Act, which bars stateless children (those without birth certificates) from attending school. As the law stand, parents or caregivers must, within three months of enrolment at a school, provide a birth certificate for the child. Without it, they are barred from attending public schools.