Worsening poverty levels in Zimbabwe have seen an increase in the number of children between the ages of 12 and 18 crossing illegally into neighbouring South Africa.
BY THOMAS MADHUKU
The children illegally cross into South Africa despite laws that prohibit movement of unaccompanied children without proper documentation — measures put in place to curb human trafficking, illegal adoption and child kidnapping.
An investigation by this reporter unearthed that haulage truck drivers work in cahoots with corrupt immigration officials to facilitate movement of illegal immigrants, including children below the ages of 18.
The border jumpers reportedly pay up to R2 000 which is shared among the dealers.
Unlike the normal system where truck drivers declare goods and are searched, some drivers bride unscrupulous immigration officials and are allowed to proceed without being searched.
A haulage truck driver (name supplied), said assisting border-jumpers was big business.
“Each time I travel from Zimbabwe to South Africa, I come across desperate Zimbabweans asking to be assisted to cross the border,” he said.
He added that they charge border-jumpers between R1 000 and R2 000.
“When immigration officials come to our trucks to search, we give them anything from R1 000 to get cleared without being searched,” said the driver.
Despite claims of bribery being rampant at the border post, assistant regional immigration officer Francis Mabika said they were on top of the situation:
“We have increased the number of State security agents and other officials monitoring the movement of people in and out of the country to include army, police and Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) officials. It will be difficult to include all those players in the bribery scam,” Mabika said.
Despite assurance from the immigration officer that security had been tightened at the border post, this reporter can confirm that border jumpers are still crossing through the porous border post.
A border-jumper who is now working in South Africa, Tongai Masamba, said: “As soon as the truck arrived at the border with South Africa, we were instructed to disembark and mill around while the driver processed papers, and embark when the truck readies to leave the border post.”
Rebecca Mutero, a Beitbridge resident, confirmed that there was an increase in the number of unaccompanied children crossing into South Africa.
“There are a lot of children milling around bus terminus looking for piece jobs or means to cross the border into South Africa,” Mutero said.
South Africa recently passed a law that came into effect on the June 1 this year, which compels minors travelling unaccompanied to produce an affidavit from both parents giving permission for the child to travel into that country. The affidavit should contain contact details of the parents/guardians, a letter from the person who will receive the child and their ID/passport.
If only one parent signs an affidavit granting the child permission to travel, the minor must produce a copy of a court order showing that the parent has been granted full parental responsibilities and rights for the child.
According to the South African Department of Home Affairs website, the amendments to the current legislation on travelling with minors are meant to enhance the safety of children travelling into South African.
“With child trafficking, kidnapping and illegal adoption all still major issues in SA, the thinking is that stricter requirements for moving Under-18s back and forth will reduce the risk of youngsters falling prey to those with bad intentions,” says the website.
A 2011 International Organisation for Migration (IOM) report titled Unaccompanied Children on the Move, raised concern about the illegal migration of youths and children.
“In research and policy debates, the migration of children and youth is considered a new area of concern and focus,” noted the report.
IOM further notes that academic and policy discussions tend to present children as passive victims of exploitation.
“Independent child migration is not necessarily an exploitative or damaging experience for children, but rather a multidimensional phenomenon. Children can be actively involved in the decision-making process regarding their future, including the decision to continue their education, to work or to combine both,” noted IOM.
With Zimbabwe’s worsening corruption levels now reaching staggering proportions, more and more children will continue to skip out of the country in search of greener pastures thus exposing them to abuse and child labour in neighbouring countries.