Unaccompanied And Separated Children

Unaccompanied and separated children in Cape Town

The Advocacy Programme has a specific sub-project dedicated to assisting unaccompanied and separated children. An unaccompanied child is a minor who has entered South Africa alone and is separated from both parents and relatives and is without an adult, guardian or caregiver who by law or custom is responsible to do so. 

A separated child is a minor who has been separated from both parents or from their legal or customary primary caregiver but not necessarily from relatives. The Advocacy Programme has a specialised team focusing on children’s issues. The team includes a non-statutory social worker. It provides assistance to children who enter South Africa alone, or in the company of adults who are not their parents or legal guardian. The reality is that many unaccompanied and separated children are unable to access legal pathways to regularize their stay in South Africa and they have limited documentation options as the immigration system is very restrictive and makes it almost impossible for unaccompanied and separated children to have access to any legal status without their parents to assist them since children derive legal status from their biological parents. 

Access to refugee offices is also a big challenge for the children who wish to lodge asylum applications. The Advocacy Programme has responded to this barrier by conducting high-level advocacy with the aim of broadening access to documentation options for unaccompanied and separated children, research on barriers and pathways to documentation, and a walk-in advice and referral service. 

Just as adults require a visa, asylum seeker permit or refugee permit in order to regularize their stay in South Africa, children also require valid documentation in order to lawfully remain in South Africa. The Advocacy Programme’s children’s project assists in providing information and advice to children and their caregivers in terms of their documentation options in South Africa. This includes completing necessary social work referrals where necessary, as well as assistance with navigating the Children’s Court process if necessary. The Programme offers support and guidance to social workers and caregivers by assisting with:

Understanding the rights of foreign children as stipulated in the South African Bill of Rights and the Children’s Act;
Assistance with the process for family tracing and family reunification either in South Africa or in country of origin;
Provision of information and assistance with regard to pathways to legalising one’s stay in South Africa; and
Conducting social worker home visits, and assisting in access to the services of the Department of Home Affairs.

Assisting some children with no documentation option and no option of returning to country of origin to apply to be granted permanent residence by the Minister of Home Affairs. Making submission in legislation affecting foreign children including the Refugees Act amendment and the white paper on international migration as these have a huge impact on the life of foreign minor children in South Africa. The Programme also assist with birth registration in order to curb issues of statelessness.

You can read some of our research here. The children’s project team also offer workshops to social workers on issues pertaining to barriers experienced by foreign children in South Africa, how to assess foreign children cases and access to documentation.


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