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South Africa: unaccompanied minors remain vulnerable
18 March 2011

Minors queue for assistance in the JRS office near the Zimbabwean border, Limpopo province, South Africa (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
Of the approximately 175 children currently housed in Musina and Makhado, less than 50 currently attend school.
Johannesburg, 16 March 2011 – Many unaccompanied minors, mostly undocumented migrant children, are forced to sleep rough at taxi ranks and beg for a living – some for over four years now.

According to staff working for JRS South based in Musina and Makhado near the Zimbabwean border, two major problems have further aggravated the situation facing unaccompanied minors: a severely under resourced state department and an accommodation shortage.

The street children in Makhado and Musina are often undocumented migrants who have crossed over the border irregularly without a valid visa. They are forced to fend for themselves by doing high-risk work, including physical labour, and are often involved in criminal gangs and prostitution.

The St Therese Shelter for Boys, the only shelter in Makhado, was recently forced to move to a larger property in order to accommodate the rapidly growing population of homeless boys in the area. However, there are no shelters for girls.

Although there are two shelters in Musina, one for boys and one for girls, both face serious resource constraints. The shortage of shelter accommodation for minors has led to some children staying at adult shelters – or simply staying on the streets.

Of the approximately 175 children currently housed in Musina and Makhado, less than 50 currently attend school. This is primarily due to legal and financial constraints. Unless the children possess a South African residence permit, schools are not allowed to enrol them.

Difficulties accessing education

Moreover, for those children admitted into school, the drop-out rate is extremely high because of the unaffordable costs of uniforms, stationary, and other necessary materials. Encouraging street children to remain in shelters and accept adult supervision is a real challenge. Without a functioning registration process, foster care, family reunification and voluntary return options are increasingly difficult to facilitate.

"A more comprehensive response by the authorities and the relevant government departments to unaccompanied minors would lead to an increased protection for these vulnerable children. Procedures and processes that increase the safety of unaccompanied minors need to be streamlined", said JRS Southern Africa Advocacy and Communication Officer, Robyn Leslie.

The JRS team in Makhado current works with the authorities to try and streamline assistance for the children that come to the office. This involves following up on accommodation options for children, as well as monitoring the issuing of court orders of protection, which mandate authorities to provide a place of safety for the child concerned.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 6897 7465