Cape Town the impact of being an undocumented child

The impact of being an undocumented child

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Did you know that, in international law, it is a child’s right to have a name, a nationality and immediate birth registration? South Africa is signatory to several international conventions that spell this out.* Here in South Africa, these rights are further enshrined in our Constitution, which confirms that all children in South Africa – regardless of nationality – have ‘the right to a name and a nationality from birth.’

The reality for some children, however, is very different. Regulations around birth registration in South Africa mean that children born to parents with expired documents and blocked or lost South African IDs cannot be issued a birth certificate. Watch this video and read this multi-organization press release to learn more.

But what does it actually mean for the child who does not hold a birth certificate? Here are just some of the impacts of being born an undocumented child.

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1. Accessing services becomes increasingly difficult
Many schools in South Africa require that a learner produce a birth certificate to enroll at school. This seems to be an ever-stricter policy. Undocumented children without birth certificates cannot enroll in school and are denied their right to basic education. Parents with no recourse to documentation are caught in limbo as they are not able to document their child. Access to healthcare becomes increasingly difficult as the child gets older. Once the child becomes eighteen years of age, the child is liable to detention and/or deportation.

2. The child is at risk of statelessness
A stateless person is defined as ‘someone who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law’. In other words, a stateless person has no recognised nationality. An undocumented child is not able to prove who they were born to, or where they were born. They are therefore at risk of statelessness. You can watch a short film on a young man affected by statelessness here.

3. The child does not exist on any state system.
It is in the interests of a state to record how many children are born within its borders. Those without birth certificates are not entered into national population registers. This also means that the child without a birth certificate is more likely to remain undetected in terms of care and protection services. It was even found that some social workers within a South African context can be reluctant to take on cases of undocumented foreign children – which might be in part due to the complex issues around being an undocumented child.

There are many more effects of being an undocumented child. If you want to learn more about the work Scalabrini does around foreign children, you can read more here. Should you require advice on an undocumented child, please contact Scalabrini or visit our Advocacy Team, from 9am – 12pm, Tuesdays – Fridays.

*The international conventions that include a child’s right to a name, nationality and birth registration are: the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 7), the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 24) and the 1999 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Article 6).

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