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Pretoria - Unaccompanied and migrant children will be the focus of a three-year project, which is being financed by the EU to the tune of R34-million.
The project will see the close co-operation of three countries in a ground-breaking cross-border collaboration to protect children.
The project, spearheaded by Save The Children and titled “Strengthening the realisation of Migrant Children’s Rights in Southern Africa”, brings together the governments of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
At the project launch on Wednesday, the three countries committed themselves to wiping out the scourge of unsafe migrant children and to prevent the unfortunate circumstances they often found themselves in.
They promised to work together towards ensuring the issues that led to children leaving home were eliminated. They also vowed to work hard to repatriate them safely, and reunite children with their families where possible.
“We need to reduce the number of children who suffer abuse, exploitation and violence as a result of irregular migration,” said Richard Young of the EU’s Southern African delegation.
These children had to be kept in mind all the time, he said, adding the increased interest of stakeholders to ensure that the rights of children were respected and integrated was commendable.
He asked all participants in the project to “walk the talk” and work with the governments to ensure success.
The project has been operational since the beginning of April, and after the launch on Wednesday they promised that it would be all systems go.
In the three years of operation, players would come up with strengthened strategies to prevent unsafe migration, address the so-called push factors, while also helping to strengthen the protection of unaccompanied children in South Africa.
South Africa has been identified as the country of destination, attracting children not only from Mozambique and Zimbabwe but also from Zambia, Swaziland and from as far as the DRC, Eritrea and South Sudan.
Project manager Melinda van Zyl explained that the focus was on unaccompanied migrant children who found themselves far away from home without adult supervision.
“Our overall goal is to ensure that by 2016 our region will have as few children as possible suffering violence, abuse and exploitation because of their migrant status.”
She said the project was designed to address unsafe migration, by strengthening the responses both at the transitional country and destination. Communities identified as having push factors like poverty and the loss of caregivers would also benefit, as they were earmarked for interventions to make them conducive to retain children.
The project would also work with communities whose children had been safely reunited, to provide them with support and ensure enabling environments for them to stay.
Issues that affected children who were already in foreign lands would also be looked at, to ensure that they had access to health, education and accommodation.
“We will work hard to ensure that there is no discrimination of these children when they land on our soil,” Tebogo Mabe of the Department of Social Development said.
He said the South African government was guided by the constitution and the Children’s Act of 2005, which strove to strengthen the preservation of families, and safeguarded the rights of children.
He said thousands of children migrated into the country through irregular channels. There were legal frameworks to guide interventions, as well as national laws, he said.
“The state alone cannot achieve the goals, so partnerships and complementary and supplementary roles by stakeholders are needed.”
The transnational collaboration was the first of its kind in the region, and it breaks new ground by focusing simultaneously on preventing unsafe migration and addressing the so-called push factors while helping to strengthen the protection of children in SA.
Some organisations from the three countries collaborating on the project:
* National police services
* Correctional services
* Labour organisations and departments
* Departments of social development/services and those for women and children
* Immigration departments
* The Red Cross
* Faith-based organisations
* Child lines and other organisations dealing with children
* National Prosecution Authorities
* Home Affairs
* Women and children crises centres
* Refugee aid organisations and others that work with refugees
* Organisations against human trafficking