The constitution and the Children’s Act do not guarantee that the needs of undocumented children are taken care of, and thus do not afford such children protection from abuse, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has said in a submission to the United Nation’s committee reviewing South Africa’s child’s rights this week.
“In some cases, social workers are unable or unwilling to help [and are] threatened with arrest by the department of home affairs for assisting these children,” the LRC said in its submission.
“In some instances, the social workers themselves believe that their services are only for South African and documented children.
“Parents who give birth to children in their country of asylum are unable to register such births with their country of origin because doing so would inform their government, which was unable or unwilling to protect them.
“Perhaps the most concerning violation of the rights of undocumented persons is the constant risk and fear of arrest. It was recently reported that an undocumented man has never left the only South African town he knows because of fear of arrest.
“As an undocumented person, his freedom of movement is completely nonexistent, as are any of his rights as explained above – he lives in a world where these guarantees mean nothing in reality.”
The fact is that stateless persons do not exist in any country on paper, are not counted in national populations where they reside, cannot own anything or travel, and no country can claim them as their own.
This means that they “do not exist”, said the LRC.
But in a twist of events earlier this month, home affairs complied with a high court order that it grant citizenship to a previously stateless child born in South Africa. This after it intended appealing the decision.
In South Africa, like many countries, most services require picture identification. These services include banks, university applications and driver’s licences, among many other services.
“This initial failure to curb statelessness means that statelessness becomes something that parents pass on to their children, consequently multiplying the number of children and persons who are stateless.”
Some unaccompanied or abandoned children face a number of challenges in getting refugee documentation to enable them to permanently integrate, it said.