By Alex Bell
20 December 2012
A group of Zimbabwean parents living in South Africa could now face potential criminal charges, after arranging to be reunited with their children across the border.
The 17 children, aged between two and 17 years old, do not have legal travel documents so their parents had arranged an illegal crossing to try and get them into South Africa.
The crossing was set to be undertaken by a 33 year old Bulawayo man called Never Chuma. But he was caught in South Africa with the 17 undocumented children, and has since been sentenced to eight months in prison.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Andrew Phiri is quoted by the state media as saying that the parents of the children face arrest and are likely to be charged under the Children’s Protection Act. It is not yet clear what will happen to the 17 children, who have no other way to be reunited with their parents.
Diana Zimbudzana from the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum in South Africa told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that this situation was “sad, particularly for the children who are left vulnerable.” She explained that many people “are forced into making illegal agreements because they just don’t have any other choice.”
Millions of Zimbabweans have fled the country, seeking to earn a living and escape the political and economic turmoil back home. Most fled without any form of documentation to prove their nationality or that of their children.
“People are now stateless and going through a process of proving themselves to be Zimbabwean. But getting documentation or getting passports is beyond the reach of many living in South Africa, either because of the high cost or other challenges,” Zimbudzana explained.
She said that passport applications for Zimbabweans in South Africa cost at least R700 each. But with the average Zim national earning only R150 – R250 a week, the price of passports is a luxury many cannot afford.
“So it makes sense that people choose an illegal route,” Zimbudzana said.
She also said that these sorts of incidents are not isolated, with many parents desperate to get their children out of Zimbabwe and into countries where their children might have a chance at receiving an education.
“We had a client who ran a shelter for migrants and it was mainly children, and they were faced with the challenge of trying to get kids across the border illegally because none of them have documents,” Zimbudzana said.
She added that the real tragedy was that many children in such situation are targeted by criminal gangs and other predators, because they are so vulnerable.
“There is never any assurance that these children will be safe and people do take advantage. It is a terrible situation,” Zimbudzana said.