ISSUE 08 | 2015

 

We must not shirk our duty to protect travelling children

Dear Colleagues,

As you all are aware, the new Immigration Regulations became effective as of May 26th, 2014. When we made this announcement, we also indicated that we would waive the implementation of the requirements for travelling children until October 2014. This was to give parents and the travel, aviation and tourism industry sufficient time to inform their clients and get themselves ready. Meanwhile, after further consultations with the industry, we conceded to a further delay until 1 June 2015 for implementation.

Come this date, we started in earnest to implement these requirements which arose from the Children’s Act (2005) aimed at protecting travelling children and at making South Africa a part of the progressive world combating child trafficking.

When we announced this requirement, we did not anticipate that we would come under heavy fire from the industry and media to do away with it in order to boost tourism. We have failed to understand how leaving children vulnerable can be a boost for tourism. We have been barraged with questions regarding, not our administrative capacity to issue unabridged birth certificates (UBCs), but regarding how many children have been victims of trafficking in order to justify the narrative that we were acting irrationally in a manner that would jeopardise tourism.

Meanwhile, as the media, the sector and their representatives have been mounting an intensive public campaign to win sympathy for their views that boosting tourism figures and earning tourism dollars is more important than protecting children, parents have appreciated the steps we have taken and gone all out to apply for UBCs and to comply with our requirements. Our officials have worked tirelessly to design innovative ways to pre-modify the UBCs (1.7 million) of children already in possession of passports, and to ensure we can, to the best extent possible, issue these to requesting parents.

As it is, during the period 01 May 2014 to 31 May 2015, a total 185 641 UBC applications were received by the department and issued to applying parents. Naturally, the highest applications were received in Gauteng, KZN and Western Cape. It must also be noted that parents do not necessarily apply for UBCs only because they are travelling abroad with children; there could be a variety of reasons.

It would seem to me that we have been subjected to a brutal industry campaign narrative that places tourism figures and profits before people. The narrative has been that there are fewer children that are victims of trafficking and hence these do not matter because to protect them means jeopardising industry profits. Accordingly, because a portion of an uncaring middle class can protect their own children, then the rest of society that depends on state protection for their children must succumb to this narrative of brutal profit-making of the few.

It seems there are some in our society who think:

‘Anyway, these few children that are victims of trafficking are mere statistics that do not justify such draconian measures as announced by the Department in May 2014’ notwithstanding similar measures implemented by other countries with no complaints from the sector for years before we announced our own measures.’

Or:

‘What if only one or ten children from Africa are trafficked? Who cares anyway? Does protecting these children count for anything? Profits are being lost and this is all that matters; these children can rot in slavery, or child-prostitution or even child-pornography dungeons, they are only a few!’

We, on the other hand, supported by Government as a whole, have held firm to the view that “one child trafficked is one child too many!” We have held firm to the view that these are not statistics, but real children with real parents. We have met parents whose children have been abducted either by their former spouses or people they do not know, wondering if they will ever see their children alive again; wondering if their children – not statistics – are safe, warm, had a meal or have a bed to sleep on. We have imagined the terminal fear in the eyes and hearts of those children, brutally and without their consent separated from their parents and safe environs.

Despite manufactured controversy, and hysterical, myopic and self-interested claims of damage to tourism, we have remained steadfast as a Department.

Our position is simple. The Immigration Regulations of 2014 sought to align our immigration rules with the Children’s Act of 2005, section 18(3)(c)(iii) of which states unambiguously: “a parent or other person who acts as guardian of a child must give or refuse consent required by law in respect of the child, including consent to the child’s departure or removal from the Republic.”

Thus our rules were not plucked from the air, or based on our own whims or discretion. The Children’s Act is the law of the land, duly passed by majority vote as an Act of Parliament- after extensive public consultation- and signed into law by the President of the Republic.

Thanks to your diligence, Home Affairs is now in compliance with the Children’s Act. We can now guarantee that every child entering or exiting the country through a port of entry, is doing so with the consent of their parents or legal guardians.

But we must remain vigilant. Only recently two South African mothers had their children removed from the country to Egypt without their consent- allegedly by their Egyptian fathers- in circumstances which remain unclear. We are investigating this matter thoroughly to determine how this unauthorized removal of two children took place, and to ensure such a breach of our rules does not happen again.

One child abducted is one child too many.

Thanks to your determination, diligence and vigilance in applying the rules, 2765 children have been barred from entering (1130) or exiting (1635) the country, because the minors were not travelling in compliance with the rules. These are real children who we, as the Republic of South Africa’s immigration authority, could not guarantee were travelling with the consent of their parents. This highlights the importance of the work we are doing to guarantee the safety of children entering and exiting our borders.

I would like to thank all of our staff for their hard work in enabling us to effectively implement the Immigration Regulations of 2014.

I would like to acknowledge the Civic Services staff who, through the UBC pre-modification project at back office and managing front office applications for UBCs, have enabled us to print most UBC applications on the spot.

Finally, a special thank you goes out to our immigration officers, particular at our ports of entry, for professionally and diligently applying the new rules regarding travelling minors.

Well done, and keep up the good work.

 

Regards,

Minister M. Gigaba