SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT RECOGNISES AND PROTECTS MIGRANT AND REPATRIATED CHILDREN

The South African government ensures that all children receive the necessary care and protection, including thorough assessments before safe integration with families or home countries. The Department of Social Development has a cross-border Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Zimbabwe and Lesotho concerning the provision of social services. Quarterly cross-border meetings are held to address issues faced by unaccompanied and separated children, seeking solutions and overcoming challenges in the best interest of the child.
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  • South Africa has made significant strides in child protection over the past 30 years, fulfilling commitments made by President Nelson Mandela in 1994, including free medical care for young children and pregnant mothers, and nutritional feeding schemes in primary schools.
  • The government has enacted key legislation and ratified international conventions to safeguard the rights and welfare of children, including measures for thorough assessments, cross-border cooperation, and partnerships with international organisations to support children on the move.
  • As part of ongoing efforts, South Africa’s Department of Social Development leads initiatives against human trafficking, supports migrant children in alternative care, and promotes child protection through campaigns like the 365 Days Child Protection Campaign, highlighting its dedication to the well-being and safety of all children within its borders.

South Africa can look back and see the significant strides it has made in its promise to protect all children within its borders. In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in May 1994, President Nelson Mandela pledged that “Children under the age of six and pregnant mothers will receive free medical care in every state hospital and clinic where such need exists. Similarly, a nutritional feeding scheme will be implemented in every primary school where such need is established.”

President Mandela also highlighted the need to combat “social pathologies as widespread poverty, the breakdown of family life, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, the abuse of children, women, and the elderly, and the painful reality of street children.” He emphasised an urgent call to empty prisons of children and place them in suitable alternative care.

To fast-track this commitment, various pieces of legislation, including the Constitution and the Children’s Act, were passed over the past three decades to improve the living conditions of children in South Africa. Upon readmission to international bodies, South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It is obligated through the Children’s Act, UNCRC, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to protect every child within its borders, regardless of nationality.

The South African government ensures that all children receive the necessary care and protection, including thorough assessments before safe integration with families or home countries. The Department of Social Development has a cross-border Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Zimbabwe and Lesotho concerning the provision of social services. Quarterly cross-border meetings are held to address issues faced by unaccompanied and separated children, seeking solutions and overcoming challenges in the best interest of the child.

The Department works with international organisations like Save the Children, UNICEF, and the International Organisation for Migration to ensure the rights of children on the move are protected. UNICEF estimates that South Africa has the largest number of children on the move. The Department is also the custodian of the Trafficking in Persons Act and leads Pillar 4 of the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide National Strategic Plan, providing extensive child protection services. It protects, cares for, and supports victims of trafficking, most of whom are women and children, offering them accommodation and psychosocial support to deal with the trauma of exploitation.

The International Social Services (ISS) directorate within the Department assists South African children distressed in foreign countries. In 2020, there were 657 migrant children in alternative care, a number that has since increased to between 900 and 1000 based on new cases and repatriations or family reunifications.

Repatriation Statistics (2005 to Date)

Brazil: 3 (South African citizens)

Malawi: 2 (South African citizens)

Mozambique: 2 (South African citizens)

Zimbabwe: 7 (2 were Democratic Republic of Congo citizens but their parents were refugees in South Africa)

Ghana: 1 (South African citizen)

United Kingdom: 1 (South African citizen)

Peru: 1 (South African citizen)

Mauritius: 1 (South African citizen)

Canada: 2 (South African citizens)

Senegal: 1 (South African citizen)

Tanzania: 2 (South African citizens)

A total of 23 children have been repatriated from 11 countries.

These achievements are part of the 365 Days Child Protection Campaign, under the theme “Protecting South Africa’s Children 30 Years On,” aimed at raising awareness and protecting children from abuse, neglect, abduction, and human trafficking.

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