The number of unaccompanied and undocumented minors coming to South Africa is increasing with 70 minors currently staying alone in Limpopo, which is at the border of Zimbabwe.
A delegation from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in Zimbabwe is on a five-day bi-lateral meeting with the Department of Social Development to look into the plight of Zimbabwean unaccompanied and separated minors living in South Africa.
The visit seeks to look into progress and challenges within existing relations between the two countries.
The exercise is undertaken with a common interest of improving the living conditions of unaccompanied and separated minors who end up in either South Africa or Zimbabwe.
The meeting includes visits to Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCC), which commenced on Monday in Musina. The delegation will also visit centres in Thohoyandou, Makhado, Polokwane and Benoni in Gauteng.
Unaccompanied minors are defined as children who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom is responsible for doing so.
Although South Africa cannot account for the numbers of unaccompanied and separated minors in the country, the Department of Social Development said there are currently 70 unaccompanied children in Limpopo alone.
Ten of which live in the Thohoyandou CYCC and are receiving care, support and protection from the Department of Social Development. Seven are from Zimbabwe, two from Mozambique and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Social Development spokesperson, Lumka Oliphant said.
Oliphant noted that South Africa through the Children’s Act, the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child and the African Charter on the Rights the Child, is obligated to look after all children within its borders.
In November 2011, the two Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Social Development to look into among other things, social security, welfare services, community development, and unaccompanied and separated minors.
Standard Operating Procedures
Oliphant said significant progress has been made within the category of unaccompanied and separated minors, this includes the introduction of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which helps with the aspect of unaccompanied children.
The SOPs have been shared to both South African and Zimbabwean governments and steering committees were formed on each side.
The South African steering committee is led by the Department of Social Development and consists of officials from the Departments of Justice, Health, Home Affairs, South African Police Service (SAPS), Department of Basic Education and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).
National Steering Committee
The National Steering Committee includes International agencies such as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Save the Children, International Organisation on Migration (IOM) and Lawyers for Human Rights.
The committee also operates at a provincial level in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng Provinces to assist with coordination of cross-border management on cases of unaccompanied minors.
During an Indaba on unaccompanied minors, held in Gauteng in June, delegates heard that the majority of unaccompanied minors entered the South African boarders illegally and for different reasons including better opportunities, mainly in the form of work, schooling, or to join their family members who are already in the country.
It was established that other pushing factors especially for children from Zimbabwe is that they missed their biological parents who are working in South Africa and decide to cross the border to look for them.
There are currently no South African children reported to be in distress in any African country. South Africa repatriates its children found to be in distress in foreign countries.
Source: South African Government News Agency