In Search of a Better Future: Experiences of unaccompanied migrant children in Limpopo & Mpumalanga in South Africa

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child provide for the protection of children who are deprived of family or parental care and make it clear that such children should have access to the care and protection system of the country they are in. These provisions apply to unaccompanied migrant children.

International law obliges South Africa not only to have legislation in place for the protection of unaccompanied migrant children but to ensure that these provisions are implemented. The South African Children’s Act (no. 38 of 2005) (thereafter referred to as “the Children’s Act”) provides for a comprehensive framework in relation to the protection of children who are deprived of family or parental care. The Children’s Act is and has been applied to unaccompanied migrant children over the years. However, the effectiveness of the care and protection system in addressing the needs of unaccompanied migrant children remains questionable.

This report aims, through case studies of unaccompanied migrant children and stakeholders with responsibilities towards these children, to assess whether the South African care and protection system provides adequate protection to these children. The report finds that the care and protection mechanisms are not applied to unaccompanied child migrants in the same manner as they are applied to South African children. It also raises questions about the durability of the care and protection system as a solution for this group of children. In addition, there are considerable systemic challenges that need urgent attention in order to provide for better protection of these children and to ensure that their best interest is primarily considered.

In conclusion, recommendations are made for improved implementation of the Children’s Act as well as for enhanced national and regional collaboration in addressing the continued migration of children in the Southern African region and building more inclusive, safer and sustainable child protection systems.

Published 2016-11-30

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