For better implementation of migrant children’s rights in South Africa

Authors: I. Palmary
Publisher: United Nations [UN] Children’s Fund , 2009

Migrant children in South Africa  

What is the legal and policy framework governing the provision of rights to migrant children in South Africa? What institutional capacity exists for responding to the needs of children who are affected by migration? What level of access to services do child migrants enjoy and what are the barriers to effective access? These questions frame this paper which gives an overview of the situation of children affected by migration into South Africa. It focuses on cross-border migrants who migrate alone, with adult caregivers or who remain behind when their caregivers migrate.

The report begins by outlining the policy framework that should guide migrant children’s access to rights in South Africa. It continues by reviewing existing studies on child migration with a view to identifying children’s access to their rights as well as pointing to gaps in information. Research on child migrants indicates very poor implementation of the legal and policy framework and significant abuses of migrant children’s rights. In particular, children are often left behind when caregivers migrate and face a range of vulnerabilities associated with this. In addition, children are migrants in their own right and the existing research indicates that, where children migrate alone, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, violence and denial of basic rights.

There is however a lack of capacity for intervention with child migrants in South Africa. Many of the migrant rights organisations that exist do not specifically address the rights of children and many children’s organisations lack the knowledge on migrant children’s rights to intervene effectively. Access to rights is almost entirely facilitated by NGOs in South Africa with migrant children having very limited direct access to government departments and services.

The report shows that the policy and legal framework in South Africa is supportive of children’s access to basic rights regardless of their documentation status. Nevertheless, in the implementation of these rights there is frequently a denial of services or confusion about the rights of different categories of migrants. It offers the following recommendations:

Further research is needed into the following areas:

  • children living outside of urban centres and their access to basic rights
  • the situation of unaccompanied minors in border areas
  • the labour practices of migrant children
  • central website collating information on children and migration should be maintained.

For advocacy:

  • advocate for regional collaboration for ensuring the rights of children to access education and health. In particular regional coordination of responses to HIV are needed
  • conduct national level advocacy for the rights of all children regardless of documentation
  • advocate for police to focus on eradicating smugglers on borders

For policy development

  • advocate for the development of an action plan for unaccompanied minors
  • clarify the rights of different categories of migrants in the national plan of action on OVCs and the national framework for orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS

For organisational capacity building

  • support the development of in-house training for police and social workers on the rights of migrant children
  • support for organisations outside of urban centres is needed where migrant children are likely to be most vulnerable, in particular the borders with Lesotho and Mozambique
  • build local capacity for high level advocacy on child rights

For migrant communities

  • support the structures that offer information on migrant rights and create new training and information services in under-serviced areas
  • assist with the development of integration strategies in schools
  • facilitate the development of community based care and support structures for unaccompanied minors.

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