With the number of unaccompanied and undocumented minors coming to the country on the increase, South Africa is committed to safeguarding every child.
In Limpopo, along the Zimbabwean border, at least 70 unaccompanied minors have been taken under the wing of the authorities.
A delegation from the Zimbabwean Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare recently took part in a five-day bilateral meeting with the Department of Social Development to look into the plight of Zimbabwean unaccompanied and separated minors living in South Africa.
The meeting included visits to child and youth care centres across the country. At the Tshitandanani Child and Youth Care Centre, in Makhado, children shared their stories with the delegation.
Fifteen-year-old Simon Jikiza* from Masvingo, in Zimbabwe, crossed the border illegally in 2016, after losing both of his parents. He tried to sell eggs in Zimbabwe, but this proved unsustainable and he decided to come to South Africa. “From Masvingo Village to Beit Bridge is about 288 kilometres and I walked with a plan, going wherever I could survive and find a better life,” he said.
Simon is now in Grade 8 and wants to write his life story so that other countries can understand the plight of children in Zimbabwe. He is adamant that he is now better off and safer at the Tshitandanani Child Care Centre.
During an Indaba on unaccompanied minors, held in June, delegates heard that the majority of unaccompanied minors enter South Africa illegally. Their reasons include searching for better opportunities, mainly in the form of work or schooling, or to join family members already in the country.
Looking after all children
Unaccompanied minors are defined as children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.
In November 2011, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Social Development to look into social security, welfare services, community development and unaccompanied and separated minors, amongst other issues.
The Department of Social Development said it is unable to provide accurate figures on the number of unaccompanied and separated minors in the country. The department’s spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant, said that South Africa - through the Children’s Act, the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child and the African Charter on the Rights of the Child - is obligated to look after all children within its borders.
Oliphant said significant progress has been made, including the introduction of standard operating procedures which help unaccompanied children. The South African steering committee is led by the Department of Social Development and consists of officials from the departments of Justice, Health, Home Affairs, Basic Education and International Relations and Cooperation and the South African Police Service.
The National Steering Committee includes international agencies, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Save the Children, International Organisation on Migration and Lawyers for Human Rights. ñ SAnews.gov.za
* Name has been changed to protect identity.