BORDER CROSSINGS: CHILDREN IN TRANSIT AND THE ROLE OF SOCIAL WORKERS

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By Lumka Oliphant

  • Transporting unaccompanied minors across borders comes at a minimal cost, highlighting concerning practices of child migration facilitated by individuals like “Malayisha,” who transport children without proper authorisation or provisions.
  • Despite attempts to reassure and console, the emotional toll of witnessing distressed children, like the 10-year-old boy at the Beitbridge border post, underscores the harsh realities faced by children on the move.
  • Instances of interception at ports, such as Groblersbrug, reveal the ongoing challenges of children on the move, underscoring the critical role of social workers in safeguarding and providing assistance to vulnerable children during border crossings.

It costs only R600 to transport an unaccompanied minor from Zimbabwe to South Africa. I vividly recall the image of children cramped at the back of a bakkie while adults sat in front with seatbelts on. The children were being transported to South Africa by “Malayisha,” as they referred to him. Malayisha, a man, was transporting two minor girls and three minor boys to another country without authorisation. The children carried only their passports and small backpacks, with no provisions of food or water for the journey, relying solely on hope for their safety as they crossed into South Africa.

In my line of work, there is absolutely nothing I have not heard or seen about how we treat children. However, the image of the 10-year-old boy, crying uncontrollably as they were taken out of the bakkie just before crossing the Beitbridge border post into South Africa this past Easter, will forever haunt me.

The mother in me tried very hard to console him and assure him that he was in good hands but all he wanted was to see his mother. He wanted to go to the promised holiday in South Africa. Curious to know what his destination was, I enquired. He said that he was going to Hyperama.

But where is Hyperama? In my head, Hyperama is a grocery store and there are many of them in South Africa.

But then I considered that Malayisha knows better; he would know where to drop him. Perhaps I couldn’t comprehend this setup because my circumstances in South Africa are much better than what I’d witnessed. My life isn’t a constant struggle that would compel me to allow my children to be cramped in a bakkie and hope for their safe passage over the border.

This experience was both shocking and saddening. The children were handed over to social workers from the department, and the necessary child protection services were activated. However, what disturbed me most was the behaviour of Malayisha.

He was only thinking about the R3000 that he just lost as he kept begging officials to let the kids go. Not once did he give a reason that involved the kids, just that he lost money. He even dared to report social workers of the department to the SAPS almost getting himself arrested.

The children were taken to the Child and Youth Care Centre in Musina while officials were in touch with Zimbabwe’s social development and immigration officials from both countries. Social workers were given the green light to repatriate the children.

Transportation was organised and over the Limpopo River we crossed. We found Zimbabwe’s social development team waiting to receive the children together with the International Organisation for Migration.

I thought I had seen it all at the Beitbridge but Groblersbrug between South Africa and Botswana was another case. The port may be quieter than Beitbridge, but an incident occurred involving the interception of a truck headed for the Democratic Republic of Congo. A woman accompanied by a child was discovered with a temporary travel document for herself, yet no documentation was found for the child. She had no bag, only her belief that they would reach the DRC, or so she claimed. Her temporary travel document prohibited her from travelling via Botswana and allowed her via Beitbridge.

She too was taken to a place of safety with the child for further assessment. Out of all this experience, it is clear that social workers should be at the centre of the movements at our ports. Their service, just like health practitioners, is much needed.

 

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