File picture: Flickr
File picture: Flickr

Petition for stateless children

By Chris Ndaliso and Noelene Barbeau Time of article published Jun 22, 2016

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Durban - In a bid to protect the welfare of stateless children, a human rights advocacy group has called on the UN to endorse a petition urging the Department of Home Affairs to end the growing phenomenon.

But the department has told the Daily News there are no plans to amend the law to make it possible to register these children.

Stateless children are those whose parents are foreigners and who are born in South Africa or elsewhere, but do not have citizenship of any country.

Without documentation, they are deprived of access to an education and health care and cannot travel.

“If you are born in South Africa, it does not mean you are South African. You have to go to your own country and apply for an identity document or birth certificate,” said department spokesman, Mayihlome Tshwete, on Tuesday.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), who have accused the department of being dismissive of its efforts, said it had presented nine cases involving stateless children to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, a UN body, highlighting the problem.

In one of the cases, said the LHR’s media and communications manager, Carol Mohale, a Canadian couple came to SA on a certain visa and the mother gave birth here.

“But Home Affairs couldn’t register the child’s birth. The department told the couple to go back to Canada, and register there, knowing Canada has strict laws about being born out of the country. A certificate indicating that the child was born out of Canada by Canadian parents could have gone a long way in securing the child’s identity,” she said.

In another case, a 10-year-old boy was born out of wedlock and abandoned by his mother as an infant. His South African father raised him and, despite the help of the Department of Social Development, could not register his son’s birth with Home Affairs.

Mohale said the problem was that according to the Births Registration Act, children born out of wedlock can only be registered by their mothers. A father can only register his child’s birth, with the mother’s consent.

Mohale said the solution was for the regulations to be amended to allow single fathers to register the births of their children.

“This will prevent discrimination against children born out of wedlock and against single fathers who have parental responsibility,” she explained.

Lusungu Kanyama Phiri, a lawyer from LHR’s stateless children project, said: “Looking at birth registration processes and the gaps in the current legislation in South Africa, we felt that some children are casualties.

“Our constitution and the African Charter refers to the protection of the welfare of children. Both the constitution and the charter seek to protect the rights of a child. We have seen this gap in both of the universal right to nationality.”

Not mincing her words, Mohale said Home Affairs was a very hostile department. “It has given our petition the middle finger,” she said.

“We have taken it (the petition) to the UN Human Rights Commission, to endorse it. That was last week and our lawyers are still in Geneva. We are not doing this for fun.

“Imagine a child who is in South Africa and has no birth certificate, who can’t access education or health care services due to some legislative boundaries. By taking this petition to the UN, we are attempting to ensure our constitution doesn’t say one thing and what is practised is different, to the detriment of the children,” Mohale said.

She referred to cases where children were not accepted at schools and parents were turned away from hospitals because there was no proof of South African citizenship.

“Are we not deviating from our own constitution to deprive a child of the right to school or health care services? We want a ministerial team to look at the delays and failures in registering children whose parent brought them to South Africa having fled their countries due to unrest, or children who are born from parents of different nationalities,” said Mohale.

She also said that when a child became a stateless adult, he or she was at risk of arrest and deportation, could not legally work or study, open a bank account or vote.

“Childhood statelessness in South Africa is a generally unaddressed, largely preventable, but growing phenomenon,” she said.

Their petition has just over 600 signatures. Phiri said they would present it to the department once they had a significant number.

Adding a signature to the petition, a Durban resident said: “No child should be without an identity and no child should be left out.”

A Cape Town resident who also added her signature to the petition said: “Every person has a right to have a country they call home. Especially children.”

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