YOUTH DAY STATEMENT | Let us reach out to the children.

Date: 16/06/2021

Youth Day commemorates the uprising of the youth in South Africa as they led a revolution to end apartheid and its racist unjust laws. Today we call on South Africans to reflect on the connection between children fleeing oppression, and what drove young people to lead the Soweto Uprisings marked by the massacre by the South African apartheid police and army on 16 June 1976.

It is well known that one of the demands of the young people was not to be taught in Afrikaans which is not their mother tongue. This was symbolic of the inhumane treatment meted out to Black people living in South Africa under apartheid. The thirst for decent quality of education fueled the protests that we saw unfolding in our country at the time.

Today Lawyers for Human Rights is raising the flag of the plight of young people who flee to our country. While migration is a part of life for people the world over, more than two thirds of the world’s refugees come from just five countries afflicted by war, ethnic persecution, and the collapse of governing institutions: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia. Reports indicate that about half of the world’s refugees are children under the age of 18 years old.

Many young people are forcibly displaced from their home country, be this Zimbabwe, Somalia, or the DRC. They have no choice but to flee when, as is the case in Uganda and Tanzania, they are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation, or in other countries they are fleeing unliveable conditions of violence, and in many cases inability to access an education following the death of their parents or living in abject poverty.

Young people who are forcibly displaced then face xenophobic attitudes from public servants as they struggle to engage with the system. Living in communities in South Africa, children who are foreign nationals live in fear of them or their family being violently attacked during recurring xenophobic violence which has become a feature of South Africa.

In 2010, Professor Ann Skelton was appointed curator of the court and she was instructed by the court and was given powers to amongst other things: “-consult with an have access to the minor children in order to ascertain the views of the children; -To consult with an have access to other relevant role -players in order to ascertain the views of the children.”

This is revolutionary. To consider the views of the very affected children, as opposed to speaking on their behalf as adults.

In her findings. Prof Skelton noted the following:

“… a range of reasons why the children are in South Africa. Some of theme have fled political violence, others are leaving because of the deaths of their parents, or because of abuse in the home. Others are trying to escape desperate poverty and have come to South Africa hoping to work and make money.”

In 2010 Professor Skelton, in her legal submission to the court as instructed, speaking to the issue of the crisis facing children who happen to be foreign nationals she said, “…these are symptoms of a much wider problem relating to the lack of a properly resourced and coordinated system for the management of unaccompanied foreign children in South Africa, …”

South Africa should be the beacon of hope in a world where migrant children are forcibly separated from their families in the USA, in a context of migration presenting an unprecedented challenge to States across the world. We witness othering and discrimination against migrants in general and against young people.

To mark Youth Day, we call on the South African government to make real the dream of the South African Constitution and its vision of a transformed South Africa that respects the basic human rights and respect for human dignity of all who live in this country. As opposed to being notoriously known as a country where xenophobic violence takes place against our fellow brothers and sisters from the African continent, we could champion the rights and respect for young people by introducing a special dispensation permit for certain categories of children who have no legal avenue to be documented in terms of the Immigration Act, Citizenship Act, or Refugees Amendment Act but who have lived for most of their lives in South Africa.

We have the legacy of tata Madiba to live up to. Our former President passionately appealed to humanity when he said: There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. Let us reach out to the children.

For more information:

Jessica Lawrence

Head of LHR Johannesburg Law Clinic



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