COVID-19 has, unfortunately, shown us how many gaps there are in the Children’s Act of 2005, which is meant to provide all children in South Africa with basic rights.
As per the South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights, section 28, all children in South Africa are entitled to several rights such, as basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services, as well as to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation to name a few.
According to Outreach Foundation’s programme manager for the counselling department, Ethel Munyai, this Act certainly does not cover migrant children.
“I am totally despondent as these rights are just on paper but not actioned. We work with migrants in South Africa and a case we recently came across involved four children who were malnourished due to their parents being unable to work and earn an income during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I was pushed from pillar to post as no one wanted to help.
“I approached several agencies that deal with children’s welfare, and even they were not interested, which really surprised me.
“These four children are just a few of thousands who are battling to survive.
“I eventually found out that the children have to be moved into temporary safe care, which is court-sanctioned, before people will even think of stepping in and this is not a quick process.”
Munyai said that she eventually managed to find a hospital that agreed to assess the children’s health.
“One of the children was immediately admitted as her situation was so serious, and the other two children will receive out-patient care and were taken to a shelter. But for the one child, it was too late.
“My heart breaks for that child and his parents. I cannot believe that he had to die because he comes from a migrant family. He was born in South Africa, but they battled to get him registered.”
According to Munyai, the situation for migrants in South Africa is dire, especially during this time.
“COVID-19 has been bad for everyone in the country, but for migrants, it has other consequences such as being unable to sort their papers out. This makes it hard for them to access health care or employment.
“The consequences of not being able to sort their documentation out results in situations like this, where children are affected and are dying.
“All children, whether they are South African or not should be afforded the rights that are stated in the Act, but that’s not happening.
“They say you can judge a country by the way they treat their children. If that is the case, we are a sad, sad country. I wish for the day that all children in this country are treated equally and are given the opportunity to live a good and healthy life.”
The Outreach Foundation Counselling Centre has provided essential mental health services and support to migrants and South Africans in Johannesburg and Pretoria before and during the pandemic.