No school wants to take in stateless child

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School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
School desks. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Johannesburg - The 8-year-old girl who was forced to take off her shirt in front of all her classmates because her mother couldn’t afford the prescribed shirt, hasn’t been able to go back to school yet.

No schools want to accept her because she is stateless, Netwerk24 reported.

She was born in South Africa, but isn’t registered because her mother is stateless.

Her father, however, is a South African.

“No one has the child’s interests at heart,” said Sophia Welz, who employs the girl’s mom.

According to Welz an independent school had accepted the youngster after she’d been taken out of The Metropolitan College in the Johannesburg CBD because of the shirt incident.

“When she wanted to enrol for Grade 3, the principal of the new school informed us that she couldn’t attend because she didn’t have a birth certificate and the school could lose its Education Department grant.”

The girl’s mom says she’s been trying for more than a week at both the Department of Home Affairs and the Children’s Court to register her child, so that she can go to school.

According to Liesl Muller, a lawyer at Lawyers for Human Rights who specialises in statelessness, a person is stateless when no country recognises him or her as a citizen “in terms of the law or in practice for various reasons”. 

'Everyone should have access to education'

Muller, who is handling the case, said the child should at least be allowed to attend school while the registration process is under way because it could take months and even years to be completed.

“In terms of the law, the Education Department should give everyone access to basic education, even if they are stateless and do not have the necessary documentation.

In terms of Education Department policy, she said, three important documents had to be submitted before a child could attend a school – a birth certificate, an immunisation card and a transfer card.

“However, the department’s policy does allow for pupils who don’t have the documents to be registered while the parents or guardians get the necessary papers. This must be done within a reasonable time.”

Despite the law and policy, Welz said, the Education Department wouldn’t admit the girl to any school.

“She’s a clever child and she’s falling behind with her school work while we wait. I don’t understand why she can’t go to school while the documentation issue is resolved."

Oupa Bodibe, the Gauteng Education Department’s acting spokesperson, said the department didn’t have a policy with regard to stateless children. 

“The department only places children in schools if they have the necessary and legal documentation.”

Bodibe referred the matter to the Department of Home Affairs and said “foreigners who are finding it difficult to place their children in South African schools because of outstanding documentation, should contact their nearest embassy for assistance”.

The department is expected to comment on Tuesday about the claims that it is acting illegally and against its own policy by not allowing the child admission to a school.

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