Undocumented children cannot go to school in South Africa: ‘The system is letting them down’

This content comes from our newly released interactive youth version of the 2019 GEM Report.

Kutenda is a 13-year-old Zimbabwean boy in South Africa who is lucky to be in school at all. He has no documentation because the country’s permit requirements for Zimbabwean migrants have changed so many times. The last permit scheme specifically for Zimbabwean migrants expired in 2017, so families now have to apply for new permits, as well as new study permits for their children. These can take 6-12 months to be issued, leaving a lot of ‘illegal’ Zimbabwean children in the country. Kutenda can continue his studies only because of a personal risk taken by his principal.

SA 1Gary, the principal, risks a fine of 5,000 South African Rand (US$350) per undocumented child he lets attend his school. In the past, with 63 such children attending, he’s been at risk of being personally fined up to ZAR315,000, or US$22,150. ‘I don’t regard myself as the top guy. I’m just passionate about education. In many instances, schools will not allow them in because they’re going by the book. I can’t understand that.

The system is letting them down. It is a constitutional right for a child to be educated, but it seems as if Home Affairs overrides the constitution. If they were not in school, where would they be? They’d be out in the streets; they’d become delinquents. So, having the children in the school – educating them, teaching them values and attitudes – they’ll become better people, and that can one day be beneficial to the country and the economy of the country.’

Despite treaty commitments to non-discrimination, making the right to education conditional on citizenship and/or legal residency status is maybe the most common way of explicitly excluding migrants in constitutions or education legislation.

SA 2South Africa’s Constitution, as well as national education legislation, guarantees the right to education for all children, whatever their migration or legal status. However, the 2002 Immigration Act prevents undocumented migrants from enrolling. Provisional registration is allowed without documents, but this rule is often ignored.

Rather than improving, as we monitor this situation since the launch of the 2019 GEM Report, we can see the policy restricting immigrant access to education becoming more entrenched. On January 25 , the Child Law Centre lost their case in the Grahamstown High Court on the Eastern Cape to get 37 undocumented migrant children school places. These children had been kept out of school since 2014 or 2015 because their parents and guardians could not provide birth certificates for them, despite many attempts to apply to their countries of origin for the documents.

All of the children aged from 6 to 17 were either removed from school or their applications to enrol were denied, in direct violation of their right to a basic education, guaranteed by South Africa’s constitution. The Child Law Centre is now preparing to appeal to the Constitutional Court on behalf of these children.

Recommendation: Protect the right to education of migrants and refugees, whatever their identification documents or residence status

Discriminatory barriers, which are prohibited in international legal and political agreements, should also be explicitly prohibited by law. Regulations should leave no grey areas for re-interpretation at different levels of the education system or by individual officers. Moreover, authorities should ensure that migrant and displaced families are aware of their rights and are provided with information on how to register and progress in school. The amount of time that migrants and refugees spend away from studying should be minimized, with the aim of having refugee children out of school for no longer than three months.

Please download and share the youth report

Youth can use it to inform their campaigns and advocacy, while the stories can teach about the education status and challenges of your peers around the globe.

Teachers can use it as a classroom aid/pedagogical tool to discuss key issues on migration and displacement around the world, taking each story in turn, discussing the context, the implications, and the solutions.

Actions you can take to support the Youth report recommendations include:

  1. Tweet the stories and recommendations in the Report using the hashtag #EducationOnTheMove
  2. Find more stories and associated calls for change on the campaign homepage
  3. Share your own story of what it’s like accessing education when on the move via the campaign homepage and help us raise awareness of the issues needing attention
  4. Work up an advocacy campaign around one of the recommendations, sharing the key facts, stats and calls for change with youth networks, the media and at events.
This entry was posted in immigrant, immigration, migrant, migration, Refugees and displaced people, right to education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Undocumented children cannot go to school in South Africa: ‘The system is letting them down’

  1. The situation of migrants is even worst in Djibouti


  2. Pingback: Undocumented children cannot go to school in South Africa: ‘The system is letting them down’ – Education Article – Education Blog

  3. Sulayman Sosseh says:

    Africa wake up.
    My call is to Africa in its entirety.
    We are all brothers and sisters as Africans. I hate to see that after centuries of swimming in the sea of blindness, African nations cannot open their eyes to reality.
    I am going to tell you why America is the greatest nation and will remain so till the end of the world.
    1/ America is 55 states under one president, a system that creates a shared advantage of obedience to one justice system, human rights that is well protected and that cover anyone in its territory regardless of his or her immigration status
    2/ Nobody is above the law no matter who you are, the position you occupy be it political, social, religious or anything you may think of.
    America knows that among the many diverse peoples living in its soil many have the potential to benefit the Nation in the future..
    3/ Those who migrated to America are ready to be the first in the from line ready to protect its sovereignty. Why? Because the American system of government gives priority to education, fulfillment of human dreams, and stands against injustice in all its forms.
    4/ America is not the property of any president, that is why any elected president has only two chances to stay in leadership no power because power is always abused.
    If I use America as example of great nation, it is because it is the center of every human behaviors and activities that test our abilities to overcome difficult situations and the fulfillment of our vital needs.
    Africa wake up. South Africa remember Nelson Mandela’s gesture towards those who illegally kept him in prison fo 30+ years just because he had a vision that would put Africa in the first line of development and prosperity.
    What South Africaof today is doing to black people is worst that what slavery has done to Africa.
    It is shameful thing to treat children, the centers of innocence like people who do not deserve a bright future that only education can grant to us.
    We never know who tomorrow will defend us.


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