AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA - Stateless children: An invisible problem in southern Africa

Monday, 8 May 2023 statelessness   children   bishops  

Johannesburg (Agenzia Fides) - According to the latest UNICEF figures, there are more than 642,000 children living in South Africa as migrants or displaced persons. This number includes refugees, asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking or smuggling, and unaccompanied and separated migrant minors.
Among them are numerous stateless minors, who therefore do not enjoy any protection from a state. The issue was recently discussed by the Working Group on Migration and Human Trafficking of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Symposium of the Bishops' Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Speaking at the conference, Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale of Johannesburg pointed out that "the ongoing conflicts in African countries are the reason for the presence of so many stateless children".
The Archbishop of Johannesburg pointed to human trafficking and forced migration due to climate change as other factors contributing to the rise in the number of stateless children in Africa. "Climate change often forces families to move in search of better opportunities, creating large numbers of stateless people", he said.
Msgr. Tlhagale pointed out that "in some cases, child trafficking victims remain stateless and grow up undocumented". This condition is later passed on to their children, which is why the number of stateless people in their country of birth is also increasing. This is due to the fact that African governments often fail to "register children at birth; the state has not considered it its duty to ensure that children are registered as soon as they are born". "Birth of children is not always registered because people are not aware of the procedures for registering children, especially in rural areas, and mainly because the government has not put in place safeguards to ensure children are registered when they are born " he stressed.
There are loopholes in South Africa's citizenship laws that do not protect children abandoned in a state's territory. Most laws in the region, including that of South Africa, do not guarantee these children the right to citizenship, leaving them vulnerable and marginalized.
Msgr. Tlhagale is a supporter of the #IBelong campaign. The #IBelong campaign, launched by UNHCR in November 2014, aims to end statelessness within ten years by identifying and protecting stateless people, resolving existing statelessness cases and preventing new cases from arising.
Finally, Msgr. Tlhagale recalled the important work being done by some religious communities in South Africa in support of refugees and migrants. In particular, the Scalabrini Missionary Sisters and the Sisters of Mother Theresa's Charity take care of stateless children and young people. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 8/5/2023)