Journey of Children on the Move: Challenges and Triumphs


By Precious Mupenzi

A tale of children on the move, particularly unaccompanied and separated migrant children, weaves a complex tapestry of love, loss, and pain. Government stakeholders grapple with navigating this intricate landscape in their daily responsibilities.

A comprehensive capacity-building session spanning two days addressed the complex issue marred by paperwork encountered by social workers and child protection workers. The focus of the session was on sharing best practices related to procedures and approaches when dealing with unaccompanied and separated children in South Africa.

South Africa, under the Children’s Act, bears the responsibility to care for and safeguard every child within its borders. It is estimated that there are about 600,000 migrant children residing in the country.

The Documentation and Citizenship workshop, a collaborative effort between HCI Foundation, Kids Haven, and Scalabrini Centre, convened at Kids Haven in Benoni, Johannesburg, from 30 to 31 January 2023. The workshop facilitated robust discussions, shedding light on persistent challenges, notably the birth registration of unaccompanied and separated children in South Africa.

During the deliberations, it became evident that this matter remains a challenge primarily due to the intricacies of procedures and approaches in assessing cases of unaccompanied and separated children. These aspects are deemed fundamental and integral to proper pathway planning concerning a child’s future.

“It is platforms like these that allow us to learn, build networks, and find new ways of ensuring the safety of the children. Some of the children are still battling with the trauma and interviews mostly trigger their emotions so it is important to learn from other colleagues on how they tackle such cases,” said one of the delegates at the session that was attended by Child and Youth Care Centre (CYCC) sector representatives, Department of Social Development representatives, law experts as well as representatives from the Embassies of Burundi and Lesotho.

The delegate went on to explain that some cases were complex and required the involvement of multiple stakeholders adding that building networks within the sector was critical.

Khosi Msibi, Social Work Manager stationed at Gauteng Provincial DSD, responsible for child protection services and alternative care in the Province at the session presented around DSD’s contribution to the Children on the Move programme.

During her presentation, the emphasis was placed on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) developed for family tracing and reunification services, along with an overview of the processes employed by International Social Services (ISS).

Unpacking the challenges Msibi said: “ISS processes take long, there are communication problems with these children because of language barriers, insufficient CYCC budget, I acknowledged that there are other stakeholders that are also involved in this programme and are assisting DSD in addressing the needs of these Children.”

The session unfolded with the sharing of experiences, revealing the intricate tapestry of love, loss, and pain experienced by children on the move, including unaccompanied and separated children.

*Alberto Dos Santos’ case:

*Alberto’s childhood was filled with stories about her mother’s hometown, somewhere deep in Mozambique, before they came to South Africa.

In a sad turn of events, her mother passed away and was buried in South Africa. *Alberto knew where her mom was laid to rest, but there was no paperwork validating this.

In 2013, another challenging event unfolded: *Alberto’s father departed shortly before his sister’s 16th birthday, leaving *Alberto, at the tender age of nine, feeling that the bonds within his family were beginning to loosen.

Tragically, after their home was engulfed by a fire, her family lost everything, but her father’s identity document survived. The inferno also meant *Alberto and her sister *Rimi had to be split up that day.

*Rimi faced considerable challenges after the fire, finding herself on the streets and turning to substances. Witnessing this downturn deeply affected *Alberto. Nevertheless, despite these hardships, *Alberto completed school. As she transitions into adulthood, her aspirations include securing meaningful employment. However, a shadow looms over her dreams due to the obstacle of not possessing the necessary documentation.

*Obinna Kafour’s case:

After the South African Police Service (SAPS) took *Obinna away to the Child and Youth Care Centre (CYCC) because he was found in the company of a man who did not seem to be his father, officers were determined to locate the boy’s mother.

When she eventually found out, she explained that she had given *Obinna to the man because she had no place to stay, and it turned out that indeed the man was not *Obinna’s real father.

The boy’s biological father lived in Rustenburg and originated from Nigeria. When the South African Police Service (SAPS) identified his location and engaged in a conversation, he verified that he supported *Obinna by sending money for his education.

As the story unfolded, it became clear that *Obinna’s mother had grown up in Gauteng, but her roots traced back to the Eastern Cape; however, oddly, she lacked knowledge of her identification. By the time an external social worker tried to find her again, she had mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind a dad who didn’t seem overly concerned.

Undeterred, the social worker decided to visit the mother’s old school, hoping to find some documentation.

*Obinna, unfortunately, had no clinic card or birth certificate, even though he was currently undergoing treatment for worms and had just started preschool. Adjusting to his new environment proved to be a challenge, as he knew very little and even struggled to interact with other children.

The social worker diligently continued her efforts, frequently visiting the homeless community where *Obinna was found. Despite her persistent attempts, no one had information about the whereabouts of *Obinna’s mother.

In a determined move, she went to court and persuaded the Magistrate to issue a court order, urging the Department of Home Affairs to document the child. However, the bureaucratic hurdles persisted, as Home Affairs insisted on a birth certificate.

Despite the general belief that *Obinna’s mother was from South Africa, acquiring the required documentation proved to be a complex task. *Obinna, while mentioning his mom, would become easily distracted, often ceasing to provide tangible information as he would go off to play.

While South Africa, through the Children’s Act, is obligated to care for and protect every child within its borders, the country is a major destination for migrant children on the move from countries throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.

According to UNICEF’s latest Data Snapshot of Migrant and Displayed Children in Africa, more than 642,000 migrant or displaced children currently live in South Africa, making it the country with the largest child migrant population on the continent.

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