Unaccompanied migrant children: Why we need to close the legal gaps to protect them

Published: 19/Feb/2015
Source: Mail & Guardian

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, almost half of the world’s forcibly displaced people are children. A number of factors lead to the migration of foreign children to South Africa. Some flee conflict and unrest, natural disaster or recruitment as child soldiers, while others leave their countries in the face of extreme poverty.

For a variety of reasons, foreign children sometimes find themselves alone or unaccompanied in South Africa. Quite often, they are forced to migrate to South Africa alone or they become separated from their caregivers while en route. Other times, they are accompanied to South Africa with a caregiver but are later abandoned on the territory. This group of children is commonly referred to as “unaccompanied foreign minors”.

Unaccompanied foreign minors, according to South African policy guidelines, are by their very nature considered to be “children in need of care and protection”. When identified by authorities they ought to immediately be referred to the children’s court by their social worker for the children’s court to make an inquiry into the child’s circumstances. From the inquiry, the court will determine whether the child is indeed a child “in need of care and protection”. This process also involves a finding by the social worker on whether or not there is a possibility of reunification with their family or re-settlement in their country of origin.

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Themes: Identity Documents, Statelessness
Regions: Southern Africa, South Africa
Year: 2015