I have been reluctant to weigh in on the issue of the new immigration regulations pertaining to children but I can contain myself no longer.
Let me begin by recapping the intention behind the new regulations; to prevent child trafficking. Let me also – just for the sake of clarity – define what “child trafficking” is. Child trafficking is defined as: “the illegal movement of children, typically for the purposes of forced labour or sexual exploitation.”
Now it is important that we humanise this issue because the arguments against the new immigration regulations have been worryingly callous; “How many children are really trafficked into or out of South Africa each year?” “Most kids enter or exit illegally through our very porous borders as opposed to through legitimate channels where their travel documents will be checked.” I even heard one travel industry commentator quipping; “Is this not using a steam-roller to crack a nut?”
Researchers seem to agree that hundreds than in the thousands of children are trafficked into or out of South Africa each year. Now to put these meaningless numbers into a little context all I ask is that you close your eyes and imagine your son, daughter or grandchild – the one who is currently playing happily outside with her friends or watching some TV – imagine that child dirty and broken, parading the streets of a foreign country, turning tricks to fuel her insatiable drug habit and the bottomless pit of her “Daddy’s” lust for money. Would you not want to do everything in your power to prevent this from happening? Would you not stand in a queue at Home Affairs all day, every day for the rest of your life to ensure that that dreadful image never became a reality? Of course you would and stuff what anyone had to say about; “the negative impact on our tourism industry.” What callousness! Quite frankly if people are put off coming to our country because we love and care for our children then they should not be welcomed here in the first place.
And let’s be honest here, we are not asking for all that much. Here is an extract from the website www.sapeople.com: “All children under the age of 18 – both local and foreigners – are now required to travel with a valid passport and an unabridged (full) birth certificate stating both parents’ names. If the child is travelling alone or with only one parent, then the child must also carry an affidavit filled out by the missing parent/s.” This particular website then goes on to provide a Parental Consent Form that you can download and use.
So all that is needed apart from the normal passport is an unabridged birth certificate and – only if the child is travelling without both parents – an affidavit from the missing parent stating that the child has permission to travel. If you are travelling from outside South Africa all you require is an official document stating the name of both the child’s parents. According to the Board of Airline Representatives (BARSA) this will cost the tourism sector over R6.8bn in losses and could result in job cuts. It did not specify the timeframe for these massive losses or how the figure was calculated.
But even if these figures are valid which is highly questionable, should we be placing monetary values – however large – onto children lives? Essentially what we are indicating when we say that the travel industry will lose RXYZ billion is that children’s lives are not worth this amount. Again – close your eyes and imagine your child.
Now I know there is a bigger picture here regarding the impact on the economy and de facto on people’s lives as a result of travel industry related job losses etc. But in truth should we not be aiming to create jobs and boost tourism whilst doing everything in our power to prevent the incalculable losses associated with child trafficking? Should we not adopt a certain cosmetic brand’s strapline; “First Do No Harm” and ensure that our travel industry does not thrive at the expense of even one child?
To quote another well know brand’s strapline lets; “Just do it”. Let’s go to home affairs, stand in the queue, get the unabridged birth certificate, do an affidavit and stop bloody whining. If we imagine that our efforts are saving children’s lives rather than wasting our oh-so-precious time and money then we may even do it with a sense of pride that our country is doing all it can to safeguard our children.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.