Home Affairs accused of violating children’s rights

The department has refused to register dozens of children in Musina in cases where one of their parents is undocumented

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Children with immigrant parents who are in the country undocumented are struggling to register in South Africa. Archive photo: Masixole Feni

  • An organisation working with vulnerable children says it is aware of about 25 cases of children in Musina growing up without birth certificates.
  • According to the Constitution all children have the right to be registered at birth.
  • But parents say Home Affairs officials are refusing to register children of immigrant mothers who are undocumented.
  • Home Affairs did not respond to our queries.

A growing number of children in Musina, whose mothers or fathers are immigrants undocumented in South Africa, are without birth certificates. Parents say Home Affairs will not register their children or issue them with birth certificates unless the mother is documented.

Tapiwa Zvauya, a program manager at Messina Home Based Care, says that since they established the project in 2002, they have come across this issue. The organisation is aware of about 25 such cases.

“In most cases the mother of the child is undocumented. We usually refer such cases to social workers, but they refer the cases to Home affairs. In the end, the parents are stuck,” said Zvauya.

The organisation also found situations where a parent dies or a mother returns to her home country before registering the child. The remaining parent finds they are unable to register the child.

According to the Constitution every child born in South Africa is entitled to birth registration regardless of whether their parents are documented or not.

In a recent court decision, the Eastern Cape High Court found a regulation that was stopping unwed, undocumented fathers from being registered on their children’s birth certificates unconstitutional and irrational.

The judge said in his ruling that the rights of thousands of children cannot be compromised simply through the circumstances of their birth or be subject to the whims or attitudes of officials in government offices.

Thandeka Chauke, Statelessness Project Manager at Lawyers for Human Rights, says, “The increasing numbers of children without birth certificates is evidence of the Department of Home Affairs’ failure to protect children’s rights. This is compounded by the fact that the birth certificate is the first and most important identity document issued to a child, and enables the child to access a host of other fundamental rights such as the right to education and the right to health care.”

Parents told us that they can’t access health care for their infants and children in Musina at state clinics and hospitals because they don’t have birth certificates. They go to the Red Cross and organisations such as Messina Home Based Care.

One mother (whose name we have withheld) who is originally from Zimbabwe and is undocumented in South Africa has two children. They were born in Musina hospital – in 2010 and 2015. She said she and the South African father tried several times in vain to register her children. She first tried to register them within 30 days of their birth.

The father has passed away. She tried to register them again after his death, but was again refused. She says Home Affairs told her to get herself documented and then there would be a DNA test of the children and their father’s relative.

Her undocumented children are in primary school but she has been advised that they will need to show birth registration when they get to secondary school.

“The 13-year-old will be in grade 8 next year. I am clueless as to how I should register the birth certificates,” she said.

A South African father of two children, aged four and 14, said, “My wish is to register birth certificates for my children, but Home Affairs told me my wife should be documented for us to register the children’s birth. I am concerned that my children will not enjoy their basic rights in South Africa.”

His wife is an undocumented Zimbabwean.

He first tried to register in 2009, within 30 days of his eldest child being born. He tried twice more then gave up, and he never attempted to register his second child.

GroundUp tried repeatedly, without success, to get clarification from several Home Affairs spokespeople.

TOPICS:  Government Human Rights Immigration

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