Undocumented children share stories of strife

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Johannesburg – Janet* was born at home to a foreign mother, who passed away before her birth was registered. 

After her mother’s death, she was placed in a children’s home. However, social workers could not register her birth because there was no South African citizen who could verify the account of circumstances surrounding her birth. 

Janet, who is now 17-years-old and about to study Grade 12, is among thousands of children, born of South Africans and foreign nationals, who are undocumented because their parents either had no documents, abandoned them or passed away. 

Janet’s story and others much like hers were shared during the launch of the Gauteng Provincial Child Protection Indaba held in Johannesburg on Thursday. 

The Gauteng Department of Social Development, together with the Departments of Justice and Home Affairs, Lawyers for Human Rights and Adoption Coalition launched the two-day Child Protection Indaba, which is tailor-made to raise awareness on the annual Child Protection Week. 

The indaba aims to mobilise all sectors and communities towards holistic development and protection of children. The engagement will focus on undocumented children in the province, as they usually fall through the cracks. 

The department and all roles players will also discuss social development issues such as education, social security and health, among others. 

Speaking at the launch, Gauteng MEC for Social Development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, said child protection is a matter that is very close to Premier David Makhura, and through his directive, the department is currently putting together a revised strategy to address the plight of children, especially the girl child. 

“We will find solutions to most problems experienced by our children. We must be a province that is fit and committed to our children. After this indaba, we should give the Premier a report on the outcomes in order to address this issues,” said MEC Mayathula-Khoza. 

She said that about 700 new unaccompanied children, who entered the country through the Musina border in Limpopo during the first quarter of this year have been assisted. 

“Eight hundred plus children, who arrived from Zimbabwe, have been assisted at the drop-in centres,” said MEC Mayathula-Khoza. 

Identifying policy gaps 

She said better coordination was need between departments to push towards the common goal of child protection.

“Let’s come up with solutions to fill the gaps. Let’s ensure that policies talk to each other so that we can help these children. They need us. They are stateless. Let’s put our minds together and find solutions to this problem. 

“This indaba provides us with an opportunity to look at the extent of this problem and address it. We are employing more social workers but we haven’t met the required target and due to limited budget, we were unable to absorb them this year,” MEC Mayathula-Khoza said. 

Decline in number of abandoned children 

According to new researched conducted by the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (NACSA), the number of abandoned children has declined in child and youth care centres, especially in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. However, the number of anonymous abandonments appear to be increasing. 

According to NACSA chairperson, Katinka Pieterse, this highlights the continued importance of child protection strategies such as adoption. 

“Sadly the number of adoptions remains extremely low in South Africa, with only 1 349 adoptions taking place in 2016/17,” said Pieterse. 

NACSA is a NGO that represents the child protection community, including social workers, crisis pregnancy homes, child and youth care centres, places of safety and adoption. 

An Assistant Director at Kids Heaven based Benoni, Sam Mokgopha, invited the Department of Home Affairs to come to the centre to see where the bottlenecks are and challenges the centre faces, which prevents them from helping children to get documents. 

“We have a number of children who completed matric but can’t get their certificates because they don’t have documentation and they can’t do anything or further their education at higher learning institutions. Life for them stops after matric. Some of them even go back to the streets, and our hands are tied,” said Mokgopha. 

The centre was opened in 2000 and takes care of 180 abandoned, abused, neglected and street children. The centre helps the children with applications of grants, birth certificates and identity documents, as well as offering after care for children. 

Register within 30 days of birth 

Training Specialist at the Department of Home Affairs, Joseph Skhosana, used the event to share information on the process of applying for documents, including the criteria and documentation needed from the parents to get documents for their children. 

Skhosana encouraged parents to register their children for birth certificates within 30 days after birth.

“If one parent of a child is a South African citizen, the child qualifies to be registered as a South African citizen at birth. A notice of birth after 30 days is regarded as late registration of birth, and we encourage both parents to come and register for their children after birth (within 30 days),” said Skhosana. – SAnews.gov.za

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