Conflicts, seasonal migrants, and human trafficking are some of the reasons why there is an increase in stateless children in Africa, Archbishop Joseph Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg Archdiocese has said.
Addressing participants during an online conference on ‘Statelessness’, organised by the Migration and Human Trafficking Working Group of the Justice, Peace, and Development Commission of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Archbishop Tlhagale said, “Conflicts in African countries over a long period, and wars are the reason for so many stateless children.”
Archbishop Tlhagale went on to say that children living in “border areas where people move with ease from one border to another”, also contribute to statelessness, as such children “do not really belong or try to claim the nationality of either country and so they move in and out of two or three countries. And over a long period of time end up being stateless because they do not belong or have documents.”
The Thursday, April 20 online statelessness conference brought together members from the SECAM Networks who discussed the challenges of Statelessness and mitigating factors that could lead to effective responses to and the possible elimination of statelessness.
Archbishop Tlhagale who is also a member of the UNHCR-Religions for Peace Multi-Religious Council of Leaders and supporter of the #IBelong campaign highlighted ‘seasonal migrants’ as “by virtue of being seasonal, they do not reside in one area or in one country, and do not register the birth of their children.”
He further said that “human trafficking” and forced migration due to climate change are some of the contributing factors to an increase in stateless children in Africa. “In some cases, children who are trafficked remain stateless and grow into adulthood without proper documents”, said Archbishop Tlhagale, and added, “Climate change often forces families to move, to search for better opportunities… There are many reasons why Africa still has huge numbers of stateless people.”
Archbishop Tlhagale bemoaned African governments’ negligence in ensuring that “children are registered at birth; the state has not seen it as its duty to ensure that children are registered at birth. The birth of children is not always registered because people do not know the procedures for registering children, especially in rural areas. And especially because the government has not put safeguards in place that will ensure that children are registered at birth.”
The member of the UNHCR-Religions for Peace Multi-Religious Council of Leaders and supporter of the #IBelong campaign also highlighted the role of the Catholic Church in South Africa in assisting stateless children. Archbishop Tlhagale mentioned religious sisters who “work a lot with women and children.”
The “Scalabrini Sisters and the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa take in quite a number of young children and teenagers who are stateless because they are here on their own”, he said, and added, “private schooling has been created by some of the schools here for children without documentation. So yes, the Church does play a big role.”