Concern over high number of migrant children with no proof of birth
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Cape Town – Nearly 30% of foreign children in youth and care centres in the Western Cape have no documents of proof of birth.
This was among the findings of a breakthrough study by the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town. The centre offers specialised services to migrants, refugees and South Africans.
The report found that many foreign children in South Africa faced a high risk of statelessness, meaning they were not considered nationals by any state under law.
Study author and Scalabrini Centre spokesperson Lotte Manicom said the aim of the study was to establish the number of foreign children in care, and gain a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges faced by the children as well as the institutions caring for them.
She said it was found that 40% of all children faced statelessness, with a further 47% being at considerable risk in this regard.
“In Gauteng, 27% of foreign children in child and youth care centres have no documents or proof of birth. In Limpopo, this percentage is as high as 82%, while in the Western Cape it is at 27%.
“Those undocumented children who were at ‘considerable risk’ of statelessness are defined either by the fact that their country of birth is unknown, that the nationality of both parents is unknown, and/or that the child has no contact with his/her parents.
“Of those children who are undocumented, 88 (of 338 cases examined) are not in contact with their mother or father, and a further three were born in an unknown location. Therefore, 91 children - representing 27% of all respondent children - were considered a considerable risk of statelessness.”
The largest proportion of children - at 34% of all children in the study - held no documentation at all. This seemed to be especially problematic in Limpopo, where 82% of children were completely undocumented.
A further 23% of children held documentation issued under the Refugees Act - but many of these children were unable to obtain documentation, as they were documented as “dependents” and were no longer in contact with the principal applicant, whose presence is required to extend documentation and finalise asylum claims.
While issues around documentation constituted the main challenge facing foreign children, the study also found that foreign children were spending large amounts of time in care centres, with family reunification proving tricky in most cases.
“In 109 cases, family reunification within South Africa was considered a possibility. In 73 of these cases or 67%, attempts to reunify family in South Africa were ongoing or failed. In 93 cases, family reunification in the country of origin is seen as a possibility. In 49 of these cases, cross-border reunification is either in process or has been attempted and failed,” Manicom said.
The study also found that the majority of children migrated with their parents to South Africa and for one reason or another were no longer in their care.
Another 27% of children entered as separated children and 27% entered South Africa alone. In Gauteng and the Western Cape, the large majority of children didn’t choose to migrate to South Africa.
Manicom said children struggled to access services as a result of struggling to access documentation. “Our recommendations are centred around trying to find ways to document them.”