Shortly after our first child was born, my husband and I took “the dreaded trip to home affairs” to register our child’s birth. I remember both of us feeling concerned about having to wait for hours in a long queue, we had hoped that our newborn baby would not scream throughout the entire process. While clutching my newborn baby in one hand, I used my other hand to fill out the paperwork, we got a picture taken and waited in line for our turn. I knew that we had to register our child’s birth but I did not know how detrimental it could be for my son if we did not, if we could not. Only recently did I discover the true value of this act.
A few weeks ago, I visited one of Save the Children South Africa’s partner organisations where this is the lived reality of over 200 undocumented minors – both South African and non-South African. These children have no birth certificates for numerous reasons out of their control, like being born at home, being born to parents with no documentation, being orphaned, having lost everything in a fire or having found themselves in South Africa with no legal form of documentation. Schools in the area have consistently turned them away - they are not registered on any identification system, therefore Principals in their area state that they cannot be placed in a school - they have been denied their right to access basic education. This is despite the fact that in 2019 the High Court in Makhada in the Eastern Cape, ruled that lack of documentation should not be used as a reason to block any child's access to education.
A kindhearted, determined lady has taken them in under her wing and is teaching them to read and write at any age. She has given them school uniform so that they can be part of a community, she provides them with regular meals so that they could learn on a full stomach and she is teaching them basic life skills. She is doing all that she can to give these children a chance for a future with education.
Accessing basic services like education and healthcare still seems impossible for the majority of undocumented children and once they turn 18, they are at risk of being detained and/or deported. Some are at risk of being stateless – there is no record of any of them on any identity system - they do not exist, they are “invisible.”
To learn more please watch this video
Although the right to birth registration is entrenched in the constitution of South Africa, it is estimated that each year about 100 000 children are not registered at birth in South Africa and 86% of undocumented children in our education system are South African. Without a birth certificate, most schools turn these children away.
In response to this issue, Save the Children South Africa is working with partners to ensure that South Africa has an integrated framework to support unaccompanied and separated children realise their rights to identity, protection, education and health – including improving the realisation of the right to birth registration for all children.
To support our work, click here
Save the Children South Africa recognises the value of establishing different types of partnerships in an effort to reach out and touch the lives of children in SA, especially the most marginalised and vulnerable. We have been, and plan to continue, collaborating with children, civil society organisations, communities, governments and the private sector to share knowledge, influence others and build capacity to ensure children’s rights are met in all circumstances.
By Yani Horn, Director of Partnerships, Advocacy and Communications at Save the Children South Africa