South Africa: Undocumented children struggle to find schools

Published: 13/Jan/2023
Source: Ground Up (Cape Town)

By Kimberly Mutandiro

It is 10am and nine-year-old Michael is begging at a set of traffic lights in Johannesburg. Most children his age are back at school after the holidays. But Michael is undocumented.

Michael has not been in school since 2021, when he used to attend a private school. His family could not afford to keep him there, and the school had also given him notice that he must show some documentation if he was to continue classes.

His two siblings, and their mother, a widow, sometimes join Michael at the robots to beg from motorists. They usually spread out to increase their chances of getting something.

Michael and one of his sisters were born in South Africa. The younger one was born in Zimbabwe but came to South Africa as a baby. The older used to attend school but the younger one has never been to school.

“Why are you not in school?” motorists have asked. The children don’t know how to answer. They want to go to school.

“I want to be in school but my mother says we have no papers. Standing at the robots is boring, but we have no choice, because we need food,” says Michael.

“Not being able to send my children to school is heartbreaking. My children have neither Zimbabwean nor South African papers because we have been in Johannesburg for a long time,” says Michael’s mother.

The online school placement system requires documents to register, so parents go in person to schools, door to door, only to be turned away. Michael’s mother tried several public schools but they insisted she bring documents.

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Themes: Acquisition by children, Birth Registration
Regions: South Africa
Year: 2023