CEO Column: The Rights of Children on the Move

Thursday 7 November 2019
I once lived on the border between Namibia and Angola. It is a flat, dry and beautiful place, with very few people. The border itself doesn’t really exist in places (there is no wall or river), so you can walk through the bush and cross into another country without realising it.

But of course such border lines, invisible or otherwise, have significant meaning. For unaccompanied migrant children, crossing a border carries emotional, psychological and developmental consequences. It can be a dangerous act, or a life line.

In South Africa, we have probably the most progressive Constitution in the world. It affords all children in this country a set of rights, including migrant children. The way I read our Constitution, it says that children are children, no matter what side of a border they live onand their rights must be respected and protected. This is reflected in our Children’s Act too.

While most South Africans would agree with this view, there are many who are ambivalent about children on the move, and others who are downright xenophobic. What we have is a crisis of solidarity.

And so, recently I was pleased to participate in a cross-border forum on unaccompanied migrant children, coordinated by Save the Children and involving government and civil society partners from Mozambique, Eswatini and South Africa. The purpose of this regular forum is to coordinate child protection across borders. 

Children cross borders for many reasons - to escape poverty or abuse, or to seek opportunity, often separated from their families in the process. But the discussions at the forum showed that in this part of the country, the main issue of concern right now is child trafficking. There are growing reports of children from Mozambique being trafficked across the border to work in South Africa, sometimes in the sex trade. Most do not speak any South African languages, and are denied access to education, health and protective services.

This is an emergency, and it needs a coordinated response, as well as commitment from key parties on durable solutions like standard operating procedures. This is where the cross-border forums come in, and it is encouraging that solutions are being found for the systemic challenges facing children on the move. I am proud to be part of an organization working to defend the Constitutional rights of all children. Our ‘Children on the Move’ project has been running since 2016, and I encourage you to find out more by speaking to our staff or visiting the Publications section on our website.

Through this project, we coordinate similar forums on the borders of Lesotho and Zimbabwe. We also help foster social cohesion through community-based dialogues on migration, and help children to access protective services and psychosocial support, among other things. This is all part of ensuring the wellbeing and development of children on the move. Because children have rights wherever they are, even if they have to cross a border. And we will continue to fight for these rights, with and for children on the move.

By  Steve Miller, CEO of Save the Children South Africa. 

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In South Africa and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.
Note to the Editor: If children are affected, we’ve got something to say. Our team of experts are available for comments, interviews and information.