Source: Scalabrini Centre (Cape Town)
This World Statistics Day, we look at new statistical research on a population for which no data exists: Unaccompanied and Separated Foreign Children in South Africa.
World Statistics Day emphasises the critical role of high-quality statistics in informed policy decision-making and better governance. The number of children migrating alone or with an unrelated adult to South Africa is unknown. As a result, the absence of relevant immigration and protection policies can result in these children falling through the cracks of social and legal systems. They become vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and statelessness.
Our new research, Unaccompanied and Separated Foreign Children in the Western Cape, South Africa: Exploring (the lack of) durable solutions for children in informal relations of care, analyses statistics generated by over a hundred surveys with migrant children and their caregivers.
These children migrate alone, or with an unrelated adult, from countries such as DRC, Somalia and Burundi. The report exposes the severe lack of documentation options available to these children: 21% of the children are at risk of becoming stateless, leaving them without the ability to access any formal rights. A further 55% of these children lack birth certificates, which often renders access to education, healthcare and social services difficult.
The research combines a literature review, qualitative and quantitative research methods and a reflection on applicable law and policies. The report finds that Unaccompanied and Separated Foreign Children in South Africa struggle to access documentation because:
1. Children with asylum claims have difficulty in accessing appropriate documents.
The research found that 39% of the surveyed children left their country of origin due to conflict. These children seem, therefore, to have refugee claims and should be documented under the Refugees Act. The Refugees Act allows a child to apply for asylum if he/she left their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted, or due to conflict. The research found that children with asylum claims faced barriers in applying for asylum. For example, as the Refugee Reception Office is closed in Cape Town, children have to travel to Durban, Pretoria or Musina to apply for asylum.
2. Migrant children have difficulty in accessing appropriate documents.
Of those surveyed, it was found that 49% of the children came to South Africa for reasons other than conflict. These children may migrate due to the death of parents in their country, or to join relatives in South Africa, or for better education opportunities. These children should, therefore, be documented under the Immigration Act. However, these children cannot typically fulfil the requirements of the Immigration Act, and therefore remain undocumented in South Africa.
3. Many of the children surveyed did not hold a birth certificate.
The right to a name and nationality is outlined in Chapter 2, section 28 of the South African Constitution. Whilst a birth certificate does not grant a foreign child legal rights to be in South Africa, it establishes the child’s name and nationality. A birth certificate is typically issued by the country where a child is born. The research found that 55% lacked a birth certificate, which renders these children at risk of statelessness. Without identification documentation and legal stay in South Africa, access to education, child protection services and healthcare is very difficult.