Access to education still a barrier for undocumented children

Zodidi Mhlana
There’s a growing number of children in South Africa who continue being denied access to education as a result of not having the required documentation. 
Experts say that undocumented children who have been admitted to schools face threats of expulsion. This emerged during the South African Human Rights Commission discussion in Johannesburg on Monday
Tina Power, a legal expert at the Legal Resources Centre said that the problem was vast.  “Since I started working in the sector, a year has not gone by without
  an increase in the number of pupils without documentation being denied access to education. I have two files full of clients and it’s definitely on the rise. It’s only the few that are brave enough and desperate to come to lawyers. From my interactions with communities, this problem is vast and it’s a combination of children born to South African parents in the country and those from migrant communities. There are a lot of foreign nationals who are undocumented and unable to go to school”, she said.
Power said that there were number of contributing factors behind the exclusion of undocumented children from school.
“South Africa has very strong xenophobic undertones that are pushed through various government departments to push a particular agenda. In terms of South African children without documents, I think it’s a lack of understanding and poorly drafted laws that don’t speak to the realities. We’ve represented children from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Angola”, she said.
Power said that some parents of the undocumented children have been asked to pay bribes in order their children can be admitted to school.
“It was more prevalent before the online system in Gauteng, parents have told us that some schools will say we will do you a favour and you will also do us a favour and that places burden on struggling poor parents. In terms of harassment, the education department says that children should be documented, but when children go to Home Affairs department to sort out their papers, they get punished for not being at school. I’m not sure what is it that schools want from children. Home Affairs is incapacitated. They are overly burdened. There needs to be clear understanding of the laws. Some of the laws need to change. Schools need to be trained on how to deal with this,” she said.
Those who have been affected say the situation was frustrating and humiliating.  Munashe Nkhoma from Katleohong in the East Rand said that he passed his matric last year with five distinctions, but he has not been able to go to university as a result of not having documentation. He was born in Zimbabwe and both his parents are from Malawi. 
The 18 year- old said that used an affidavit to write to his matric examinations.
“I got a bursary to further my studies, but unfortunately, I can’t go to university because I have no ID or passport or any form of identification. My parents have been unable to get me any documentation,” he said. 
The SA Human Rights Commission said that there’s no credible data on the number of undocumented children, but the trend was on the rise. It said that most of those affected by this were from poor backgrounds.