The Building Blocks to Empowerment | #HelpingHandsSGBV

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Getting to know ourselves 

“I would describe Women’s Platform as a space where women learn about who they are and try to grow from there. I would say it is a family, a home. I would also explain it as a journey.”  

Shingi West is the Women’s Platform Personal Development (PD) Manager – “Personal Development is actually the heart of Women’s Platform. It is where the women realise who they are and what they want out of life.”  

Working with both South African women and women originally from other countries, personal development courses focus on growth, empowerment and identity. “They [the women] learn about their different emotions and the importance of self-care – it’s very difficult for people to express themselves and understand how they feel or what they really want. We believe that once you understand how you feel in terms of emotions you are able to help yourself from there.” 

Goals, action plans, mentorship and networking are a major focus within Women’s Platform. It is also a space where women are able to develop a sense of community and a feeling of safety – to the point that if they are suffering from sexual or gender-based violence (SGBV), this is a space where they can ask for help or develop their thoughts and plans around their next move. 

Barriers to Reporting 

Shingi is aware of many reasons that people would not want to report their abuse. “I think it’s the way our society is shaped, the cultural norms, fear, secondary trauma and thinking about what people will say. Then there’s also financial implications, immigration status, isolation –imagine you are in a foreign country, you already don’t know people and now you are in this relationship that’s abusive. There are a lot of implications when it comes to leaving. That’s why I always feel that people who are in abusive relationships are strong to stay in those relationships and they are also strong to leave those relationships. We cannot even begin to judge them its unfair.” 

As a person who is migrating or has migrated, one encounters several specific spaces where SGBV can occur. Each person’s journey is different. “If it is intimate partner violence (IPV), most of the time you find that it started well before they came to South Africa and maybe worsened because of the situation when they got here. For others, it could have started when they arrived here. The sad thing from the research we had was, usually the husband comes first and their wife and sometimes children make their way alone to join him. On that journey, there can be different forms of SGBV – from their relationships with their partner, to what they’re running away from, to being taken advantage of travelling and crossing borders because they have no money to pay their way, to getting to South Africa and still being vulnerable to the same situations.” 

Safe Spaces 

Within Women’s Platform, educating women on their rights is very important. Once conversations are opened up, women are able to learn from each other and more spaces are created for them to ask for and receive support. “Sometimes when you realise that there is a group of women that can support you, that have gone through some of these things, that share the same language, that are from the same country, it gives you a bit more confidence to move to the next step.”  

What if someone confides in you that they are facing SGBV? Shingi would not recommend forcing anyone to go to the police and report, it’s about the person realising where they are and where they want to go. Encouraging them to join support groups, to receive counseling to better understand their situation and to understand that none of it is their fault is key. Once they are empowered, once they have enough information to make a sound decision, then they can move forward from there.” Shingi emphasises the need to build trust so that when the person is ready to ask for support or is ready to leave the relationship, they know that you are there to support them. 

Once women complete the personal development courses, they can go on to the skills sector. This empowers them to become financially independent. “They can take baby steps until they reach that space of freedom.” 

“I always say, all women are resilient. We go through so many different things. Resilience is shown in subtle changes – where women want to be more empowered, where they want to be leaders in their communities, where they want to stand up for things that they never used to stand up for. Because you’re a woman you have the power to grow from where you are.” 


#HelpingHandsSGBV Information, Resources and Organisations

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Our #HelpingHandsSGBV campaign looks at how Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) in South Africa affects children and adults from other countries. For non-South Africans, there can be extra barriers to reporting SGBV – but there are similarities in their experiences too. #HelpingHandsSGBV aims to provide information on how to better understand, report and get help on issues of SGBV in South Africa. 

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Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is violence directed at an individual based on their sex or gender. SGBV may take many forms including physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence. While all genders may be affected by SGBV, the majority of victims and survivors are women and girls.

It’s often reported that South Africa has some of the highest SGBV rates in the world. Further, research indicates that as few as 1/13 rapes are reported to the police and many incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) may be recorded as assault.

It is difficult to provide accurate data for how many migrant women and children are affected by SGBV. There are many barriers that those trying to report SGBV and IPV have highlighted when trying to access services. Barriers to reporting of SGBV and IPV by migrant women and children include lack of proper documentation, language barriers, or xenophobia.

Child asylum seekers and refugees may be especially vulnerable to SGBV during migration, particularly unaccompanied or separated migrant children, according to the UNHCR. Detained children, child soldiers, children with disabilities, working children, and children born to rape victims and survivors are all at a heightened risk of SGBV during the migration process. SGBV against boys is also under-reported and under acknowledged.

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This is a list of some organisations in South Africa that can support people affected by SGBV.

The Fruit Basket

Members of LGBTQI+ communities may be at a higher risk of experiencing SGBV if they are seen as failing to conform to prescribed gender expectations and roles or as a result of homophobia and/or transphobia. LGBTQI+ children and youth may be particularly vulnerable if they are also lacking family and community support or protection.

The Fruit Basket offers referral services for LGBTQI+ migrants of any age, including legal and counseling referrals.

You can contact them via email or find them on Instagram or Facebook. Their offices are closed due to Covid-19, but their programmes are running remotely.


Childline has a toll-free telephone counseling line. This helpline is free from any network and operates 24/7. This helpline is for children and for adults with concerns about children. You can call this number in an emergency situation or it allows children to talk about their concerns and issues that directly affect them. Childline provides counselling to their callers and in an emergency situation they can refer you to a social worker ( Department of Social Development/ Child Welfare).

If you need to contact the toll free helpline the number is 08 000 55 555 or access their website here for more information.

Thuthuzela Care Centres

Thuthuzela Care Centre is a one stop facility that has been introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy. Thuthuzela’s integrated approach to rape care is one of respect, comfort, restoring dignity and ensuring justice for children, women and men who are victims of sexual violence. When reporting, the rape victim is removed from crowds and intimidating environments, such as at the police station, to a more victim-friendly environment before being transported by police to the Thuthuzela care centre at the hospital. Enroute, the survivor receives comfort and crisis counselling from a trained Counsellors. Read more about the Thuthuzela Care Centres and their locations here

Thuthuzela Care Centres in the Western Cape:

    • Karl Bremer Hospital: 021 918 1321
    • Heideveld Day Hospital: 021 699 3246
    • Victoria Hospital forensic unit: 021 799 1111/1235
    • Khayelitsha District Hospital: 021 360 4570

Rape Crisis

Rape Crisis offer support to people who have experienced or been affected by sexual violence. You can call their 24-hour helpline on 021 447 9762.

Rape Crisis have also published a useful guide to knowing your rights and services if you have experienced sexual violence.

Adonis Musati

Adonis Must offers peer support programs, counseling and social services. Services are in English, with translations available for French, Swahili, Lingala, Kirundi, Shona, and Chichewa

Contact them on or visit

The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town

The Scalabrini Centre offers welfare support, counselling and legal advice. The Women’s Platform at Scalabrini has a Personal Development course as well as skills training.

Send us an email at or message us on Instagram or Facebook.

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A painting you cannot imagine: Learning and growing from a difficult marriage | #HelpingHandsSGBV

Our #HelpingHandsSGBV campaign looks at how SGBV in South Africa affects children and adults from other countries. For non-South Africans, there can be extra barriers to reporting SGBV – but there are similarities in their experiences too. #HelpingHandsSGBV aims to provide information on how to better understand, report and get help on issues of SGBV in South Africa.

Maria* says that, a few months ago, this interview would never have happened. Not too long ago, she felt that she was not able to speak to anyone about the abuse that she was facing in her own home. Speaking about this abuse and reaching out has encouraged her journey to healing. Maria hopes that her experiences can now offer hope and strength to people in a similar situation.

Ideas of marriage and family

“When I got married, I had no experience. You get a basic education of marriage, but it was just that.” Maria grew up with both of her parents, in a family where arguments between her parents never took place in front of the children. Growing up, divorce was something that she did not even know was an option.

Her husband’s childhood was quite different. His mother was young and unprepared to have a child, and he spent much of his childhood moving from household to household. Whilst this kind of childhood is not uncommon, Maria found that it affected her husband throughout his adult life.”

Maria and her husband got married in 2012 and she fell pregnant with their daughter very soon after. “When you get married you hear all these nice stories. People paint a beautiful picture of marriage and then you go in there and these things can start happening. It’s like something you’ve never even thought in your head.”

In their first year of marriage, Maria’s husband lost his job and couldn’t find employment for the following three years. “There was the problem of not having the money and not feeling ‘man’ enough. We accumulated so much debt…It would start as an argument and then my husband would end up slapping me. I didn’t allow it to happen, I would fight back – and that’s when it would get worse because it’s like two men fighting. It really came as a shock for me.”

Family involvement

While this physical abuse was happening, Maria felt like she was unable to tell anyone about it. She could not tell her family living in Johannesburg and she would hide the bruises when she went to work. “You feel ashamed that it’s happening. You feel sorry for yourself and you don’t feel like going through the process again, by telling someone. Also, one of the reasons is because you love your partner…it’s a very difficult situation.”

Maria’s colleague was the person to reach out to her family to inform them that something was going on. “They (my family) confronted the situation; they confronted my husband and then we had to sit down and everybody explained it to be new couples and that it takes time to harmonise.” Maria was told that as a woman you need to respect a man and understand how to live with them.

Quieter times

After their families got involved, it was a quieter time. Maria* speaks of the quieter times in the marriage where there was no violence. Once they spoke to their families, they began working on resolving things.

After their son was born the violence started up again – leading to her father having to come rescue them. They kept trying to make it work, specifically for the children – and for a year it did.

“The last instance was the worst one. I didn’t realise what was happening. I tried to reach out to my phone and I phoned my cousin and asked her to come and fetch me. I did not look at my face. When my cousin arrived, she was devastated. She just started crying and I didn’t really understand why. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was swollen all over – he was beating me on my head and on my ear – I was swollen all over on the face, I had some blood and scratches. They took me to hospital and luckily, I didn’t have anything broken.” Maria and her children moved to Pretoria to live with her mom.


“At the time my children were very small, but they saw.” Maria says her daughter remembers things. For example, her daughter was 6 years old when her husband took a chair to a door to get into the room she had locked herself in. Although her children did not see what was happening inside the room, they heard their mom screaming for the neighbours to call the police.

“They (my children) felt what was happening. When we were at my mom’s place, it was difficult. They love their dad and it was difficult for them to be separated. He (my son) wanted me to explain why I wasn’t with his dad anymore. I can’t say that they understand what happened, but subconsciously they have some scars as well.”


After a few months, Maria’s husband’s family came to negotiate. As a means of survival and for the sake of her children she decided to give it one last try. “It’s been two years now that we’re back together, so we’ve learnt to deal with things in a very different way and I’m really hoping that it stays like that.  At first, I was very fearful – having that gap and then it happens again, you never know if it stopped or if it’s still going to happen. But I told myself I can’t live in fear – if I’m going to be in it then I have to take responsibility for watching out for the things that are happening so it doesn’t happen again.


Speaking to people about what has happened has given Maria the space to begin her healing. She stresses that anyone living in a similar situation needs to reach out and talk to people.  “We have to put all the shame aside and reach out.” Speaking to people is what gave Maria the strength to stand her ground and say ‘no more! I’m not going to allow this behaviour anymore because I don’t deserve that’. Acknowledging that not knowing the outcome is frightening ‘but at least it’s easier than living through the (abusive) situation.’


#FarFromHome: Blaise

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Welcome to our global #FarFromHome series: reflections on the time of Covid-19 from people who are are far from their family and home-country. We hope this brings comfort and reassurance. We chat to Blaise, who is from DRC and lives in South Africa.

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Has anything brought you hope or inspiration during this time? Firstly, I’m a Christian and believe in God. I never lost hope, despite the way the situation got worse and uncontrollable but I believed that God will restore peace. I started spending more time with my neighbors and eventually getting to know them well. Sharing was an amazing experience during the pandemic.  

What other emotions has this period brought for you? I have never experienced a period such as this and It is clear that covid19 is an exceptional pandemic which destroyed many lives and destabilized the world economy. In some instant, life became uncertain. I was surprised and shocked to see in Italy, people celebrating when they only had 800 deaths a day. I believe that life is sacred even one death is a loss. 

What in your life history has made you better able to deal with this situation?  I understood that life is a mysterious journey. People need to help one another, care for the vulnerable and make the weaker ones stronger. 

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Thinking about the covid-19 pandemic, what good qualities has it brought out in you?  I became more sociable than before. But also thought I must become more economical. I understood that I shouldn’t take my freedom for granted but rather use it constructively and intelligently for the best interest of the community.  

Has this experience changed your interaction with your neighbours or community? In my neighborhood things were a little different. More people ignored the danger of the pandemic. Everyone was tired of sleeping or staying indoors. Therefore, people started spending more time outside to enjoy the sun and interacting at the same time. This has given me a strong plot to get to know the neighbors, what they do and what they think… 

What would be your advice to those people facing difficult situations at this time? We need to be strong and never lose hope. I understand that things are even worse especially when you are far from home because the government somehow can assist foreigners in certain level. However, the privilege is firstly given to citizens which is logical.  

As for individuals, every time we put food on our table, we shall remember those who don’t have. The least we can do, is to share with people around us, contribute to accredited charities NGO that help many people when we can. 10 rand won’t really do much but can make a difference. 

We pray that things get to normal very soon. 

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Making a space where we ‘belong’: Reflections from Giulia, Manager of Lawrence House

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The Scalabrini team works with migrants and refugees every day. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Giulia, the Manager of Lawrence House. Having grown up in Germany as an Italian woman, ‘belonging’ is something that Giulia has always been very conscious of and it threads itself throughout her day-to-day work.  

Belonging is complex 

Raised in a migrant community, Giulia understands the importance of having a sense of belonging, and what it means if people don’t have this. “Growing up in Germany, I always felt like I was going to be Italian. But in Italy I was called the ‘German girl’. It’s something I experienced and it’s something I grew up in.” 

Lawrence House is a registered Child and Youth Care Centre, safeguarding and providing specialised services for up to 25 children and teenagers from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Children are placed at Lawrence House by the Department of Social Development for different reasons and for different lengths of time. Living in a different country and being without your family can have huge implications for one’s sense of belonging.  

“Belonging is complex – especially for yourself as a young person. It is crucial to your sense of self, your dignity and your sense of place in this world.”  

A quote by Jhumpa Lahiri – an author who herself struggled to find her identity and belonging after being born to parents who were migrants – echoes what is said by Giulia. “Language, identity, place, home: these are all of a piece – just different elements of belonging and not-belonging”. 

The system does not protect children enough 

Some children travel to South Africa on their own. Some travel with non-family members who have no legal obligation of care towards them. “I’ve seen that children remain extremely vulnerable in the process. They are not heard enough. Their needs and their circumstances are not taken into consideration properly, by law. There is not any real protection for them in the system.”  

Whether the children who come into Lawrence House are documented or not, they become wards of the state and the Lawrence House team make sure that their rights are protected and exercised.  

One of the most difficult aspects of Giulia’s job is seeing the pain that the children carry and not being able to offer them immediate solutions – it is something that the children need to work through with the help of Lawrence House team. “It’s hard to accept not finding a solution to a situation.” She also emphasises that ‘just because your intentions are good, that does not mean young people are going to trust you.’ 

We need more empathy and less judgment 

Giulia speaks of the importance of relationships at Lawrence House. They work by a golden rule: to ‘never assume’. Never assume that you have been understood or that you understand.  A change that she would like to see, is for people to be less judgmental before having had the chance to interact with someone. “The biggest problems come when there’s judgment before you engage with the person… We need less judgment from people and people being more open to encounters.” This ties back into Lawrence House’s golden rule – just because someone comes from a different background or lives a different way, don’t assume that you know who they are and what they are like.  


#FarFromHome: Amkelwa

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Welcome to our global #FarFromHome series: reflections on the time of Covid-19 from people who are are far from their family and home-country. We hope this brings comfort and reassurance. We chat to Amkelwa, who lives in Paarl and is from the Eastern Cape.

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This is a difficult time for us all. But, what activity, or thought, or philosophy, has guided you through this time in the pandemic? During the pandemic, I involved myself in an English learning group. That helped me a lot to improve my English. I was also involved in a community soup kitchen. We were cooking porridge for small children every day in the morning, because we are a very poor community. 

What other emotions has this period brought for you?  

This pandemic has brought me nothing but pain, because I can’t watch people going to bed with an empty stomach. I had to take food from my home and share it with those who have nothing, even if it’s 2 people I will know that at least I have tried. But in this whole situation I felt helpless because I couldn’t help other people because I needed help myself.  

What in your life history has made you better able to deal with this situation? 

I was able to deal with this situation because of the situation that I grew up with. When I grew up my father was an alcoholic. He used to drink the whole weekend, from Friday to Sunday. When he was drunk he would beat my mother up, and we went to go ask for a place to sleep with our neighbours. Growing up like that has made me strong and I can deal with tough situations. I was the reason why my father has changed and become a better person.  

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Thinking about the Covid-19 pandemic, what good qualities has it brought out in you? I would say I am good at solving problems. The pandemic has brought out the real person that I am – some of the things I have done for other people, I never thought that I would do them for anyone. The thing that made me get through this pandemic is being tough, because if I wasn’t tough and brave, I wouldn’t have made it.  

Has this experience changed your interaction with your neighbours or community? If so, how?  

Yes, I have learnt a lesson that I must always look after my neighbours, because you know when people need your help.  

What would be your advice to those people facing difficult situations at this time?  

My advice to other people, if you have problems just pray about your problems and be patient, have faith. God is alive you just need to communicate with him and put your trust in him. 

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#FarFromHome: Marc

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Welcome to our global #FarFromHome series: reflections on the time of Covid-19 from people who are are far from their family and home-country. We hope this brings comfort and reassurance. We chat to Marc, who lives in South Africa and is from DRC.

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What has guided you through this time? I focused on empowering myself by studying English on WhatsApp with Scalabrini English department and also by reading often the Bible. 

Has anything brought you hope or inspiration in this time? Yes, besides the thoughts from the Bible, there were a lesson we learn with my colleagues from English class and our lecturer Jill Van, which was about Chadwick Boseman – the king of Wakanda and the actor of Black Panther. I went through all his story, this inspired and motivated me. To summarize the lesson – despite the ups and downs in life and what we’re going through, we must not give up!

What other emotions has this time brought out for you? Overwhelmed by the fear of getting Corona virus, I was always putting my mask on and washing regularly my hands. I am still observing the social distancing and measures.

What in your life history has made you better able to deal with this situation? I was raised by my single mother after the death of my father. Life became difficult and uncertain for my mom and I, but she taught me how to be content with the little we had, that is how I lived all my childhood. So that good education received from her helps me to deal with difficult situations and unexpected moments of life. 

What characteristics of yourself have you relied on to get through this tough time?  I am very disciplined and organised man. Through this lockdown, I planned and organised myself to observe the measures of quarantine – keeping social distancing, no shaking hands, no hangs, always putting on my mask and washing my hands.

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What would be your advice to those people facing difficult situations at this time? It would be difficult to advise people during this time, because we have different goals and expectations – some of us has lost their jobs. But we should be prepared to face any situation, be courageous, determined to cope with the situation as it is, hoping that the better days are coming and be content with what we have.

Is there any other message you would like to send to other people who are living far from their original birthplace during this time? If we have a chance to learn something new let us do it. To read the Bible that is great, to be in touch with others, to share foods. We need to set up our mind and emotions to be enough strong when such situations occur.

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Lessons in Adaptability with Women’s Platform

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At the center of Cape Town sits Green Market Square – a bustling market filled with curios from all over the African continentIt is a magnet for Cape Town’s tourists, who typically number over 5 million per year. When the Covid-19 pandemic hitSouth Africa went into lockdown: borders were closed, tourists stopped comingand many market vendors were left with no source of income at all. 

Some of these market vendors are members of Scalabrini’s Women’s Platform. With the need to adapt and provide for their families, they came together and quickly tapped into the demand for masks.

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According to findings from National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, women are disproportionality affected by the economic crisis  caused by the pandemic. This was seen not only in South Africa, but around the world.  

The five women – Eulali, Jeanette, Kelly, Tina and Therese – who have been part of Women’s Platform for the last few yearsrealised that they needed to make a plan to support themselves and their families in the time of lockdown.  

We thought it would maybe be one month. Before the lockdown I sold some things that I thought would carry me through,” says Theresa when reflecting on the start of lockdown. 

“Before lockdown started, I had my own business, which was a sewing school I trained Somali ladies how to sew at the Somali Association in Belville.” Jeanette was training eight women at her school before the lockdown started and the other four women were traders at markets around Cape Town.  

With lockdown upon them, this group of women faced an unsure future. They had trained to sew certain things that, under lockdown, were not going to be sold. In a moment of brilliance, they came together and made a plan: to start a mask-sewing business. 

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“I learnt to make the masks because of what is going on in the world.” Eulali echoes what was said by each of the other women. Together, the group of five women approached Women’s Platform for assistance with marketing and selling the masks.   

Jitske from Women’s Platform helped the women with marketing, to find more buyers and with the delivery and collection of the masksThrough the use of social media, over 500 masks were sold and over 200 were donated through cooperation with the Tamboerskloof Community Action Network, where they were then donated to people iZwelitsha and the Tamboerskloof areaKelly speaks of making masks to help other people protect themselves. “The lockdown shows me that I have a responsibility toward other people.” Tina shared this sentiment; “I made some masks for donation that I took to the hospital. I also give some to people on the road who don’t have masks. I went to the church yesterday and gave some masks to people who I can see don’t have good masks or don’t have any masks.”  


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Although the sales of masks have slowed down now, they were the boost the women needed to adapt and come up with new ideas. Jeanette is looking at moving her sewing classes online, Kelly is aiming to launch her new clothing designs for children in November, and the other women have their own business ideas brewing.  

In a group discussion hosted by Women’s Platform, more stories were shared by women who have adapted their businesses under lockdown. Stories were shared by a woman who was active in the transport business and shifted from transporting kids to delivering food when schools were closed. Another businesswoman went from selling burgers to restaurants, to making and selling bread 

One lesson that has been learnt during the lockdown is that every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.” – Richard Branson 

**Since this article was written the women have had another order come in for 200 sling bags and 400 masks.  



Joint Submission to United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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In November 2020, The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Centre for Child Law and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion submitted joint submissions to the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child.

These joint submissions looked at South Africa’s compliance with the right of every child to acquire a nationality. This right is outlined in Article 7 and 8 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our submissions look at: access to citizenship, access to birth registration, blocked IDs and resultant barriers in accessing citizenship and, the lack of a statelessness determination procedure in South Africa. Our joint submissions make recommendations to ensure South Africa’s compliance to relevant CRC rights.

Our submission also draws on the Guiding Principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular, the freedom from discrimination (Article 2) and the best interests of the child (Article 3).

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