28 May 2015

Travelling with Minors across South African Borders, Latest Rules come into effect on 1 June 2015

by Dean Joubert de Villiers, Partner, Durban, Jennifer Woker, Partner, Johannesburg,
Practice Area(s): Corporate & Commercial | Immigration |

The new unabridged birth certificate requirement for children travelling to and from South Africa will come into effect this Monday, 1 June 2015.

What this means for a person travelling with a child, is that  the person must be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate for that child, and a consent affidavit from the parent or parents of the child authorising the person to travel with the child. This is in line with South Africa’s international obligation to curb child trafficking and also in line with the provisions of our Childrens’ Act, 2005 (Act No. 38 of 2005). The purpose of the amendment is to assist in curbing the abduction and kidnapping of children, sometimes even by one of their parents.

Children born in South Africa before 2013 were all issued with "abridged", short form, birth certificates, which are useless to parents intending to travel abroad. We have been advised that the current delay in obtaining an unabridged birth certificate from the Department of Home Affairs is in the region of 6 – 8 months.

This Regulation has been presented in the press as a public relations disaster for South Africa's tourism industry, in particular, because most of our tourists will depart for South Africa armed only with their children's passports. South Africa's main tourist markets do not require our visitors to obtain a visa before entering the country, they simply receive the visa at our ports of entry. The likelihood therefore exists that the unabridged birth certificate requirement will go completely unnoticed by those travelling long distance with children. At best they will be denied boarding when their journey has reached a point of no return, or – at worst – their children will be denied entry into South Africa and be put on the first plane straight back home.

Minister Gigaba has been quoted as saying that "the new regulations are not too onerous and parents can use their country's equivalent of the documents while travelling". In fact, he has encouraged foreigners travelling to South Africa to attend at our foreign offices abroad should they be concerned about their children's travel documents. He is, of course, presuming that they know about the changes to our immigration legislation in between the trials and tribulations of parenthood.

Of further concern to South African parents, is what happens when they are estranged from each other, to the extent that they are no longer in contact? The unabridged birth certificate identifies who both parents are, and the law from Monday requires both parents to comply with Regulation 12. As things will stand, therefore, the child will no longer be able to travel into or out of South Africa, until that second parent is located, and gives his/her consent, alternatively until a court orders that he/she is no longer fit to be a guardian of the child.