A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 November 2004
IMPACT OF CHILDREN’S BILL ON DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS: BRIEFING
[The Chairperson was not identified]
Documents handed out:
Department of Home Affairs briefing
Committee report on provincial visits
The Committee met to receive a briefing by the Department of Home Affairs on the implications of the Children’s Bill for Department service delivery. They discussed various strategies such as more mobile units and educational campaigns. Members raised numerous questions including envisaged communication campaigns in rural areas, timeframes on the proposed online registration project, duplication of identification documents, the status of temporary residents, and the role played by international organisations in identifying unaccompanied children.
Department of Home Affairs briefing
Mr J Chavalala (Chief Director) apologised for the absence of the Director-General due to unforeseen official circumstances. The Department’s strategy to improve the delivery of Identification Documents was highlighted emphasising achievements to date. A national survey was underway to identify areas of poor delivery and regions where improvements could be made. The survey would be conducted in collaboration with Stats SA and in partnership with the Department of Social Development. Sixty-seven additional mobile units were being commissioned to enhance delivery with ten to be provided by the end of December. Other Departments were being assisted with access to data in the National Population Register. All IT systems were being revamped and one single database would be created in collaboration with other stakeholders.
Details were provided on the registration of children born in and out of wedlock. Foreign children borne in South Africa of parents present on a temporary basis would not be registered in the National Population Register. A child born out of wedlock could only be registered in the father’s name with the consent of the mother. Unaccompanied children had to receive legal assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register as refugees or asylum seekers. The UNHCR and the International Red Cross Tracing Unit were responsible for re-uniting unaccompanied children with their parents. The Department played an important role in curbing human trafficking and issuing victims with the necessary documentation. Strategies designed to protect children affected by human trafficking were discussed. Temporary permits would be issued to victims of trafficking and counter-trafficking focal points would be identified in all provinces.
The amendments to the Films and Publication Act would be publicised and information sessions would be arranged for relevant Departments and law enforcement agencies. The list of Departmental activities involving children was listed and specific clauses of the Bill impacting on current legislation were highlighted.
The Chairperson stated that the Department played an important role in implementing aspects of the Children’s Bill. Reference was made to anecdotes of lost and stolen IDs in rural areas and the escalation of minor marriages.
Ms S Rajbally (MF) referred to the tenders for mobile units and asked whether the rural areas were being properly serviced despite the plans for increased mobile units. She asked what steps were being taken to notify rural inhabitants of the right of mothers to register their children born out of wedlock.
Mr Chavalala responded that approximately 987 IDs had been lost or stolen and an investigation was underway in co-operation with the SAPS.
Mr E Kritzinger (Director: Civic Services) replied that no specific awareness campaign was in place to notify mothers but it would be considered in future campaigns. Steps were being taken to deal with fraudulent marriages and juvenile marriages but extensive problems remained. A Marital Status Verification Project was in place to reduce incidences of fraud. The involvement of children within foreign marriages had to be investigated further and incorporated into awareness campaigns.
Mr Chavalala stated that approximately 1500 fraudulent marriages had been identified and investigated and 637 had been expunged.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) referred to the poor conditions prevalent in the deep-rural areas and asked for detail on the type of mobile units to be employed and the compatibility. She asked whether the Department would support the creation of a new database within the Department of Social Development. Clarity was sought on the status of foreign children temporarily in South Africa and the conditions within refugee centres regarding children. The registration of births within hospitals needed explanation.
Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked for timeframes on the rollout of the online birth registration programme. Child grants also experienced anomalies within urban areas and further clarity was needed. The role of men within trafficking needed explanation.
Ms H Weber (DA) asked about street children and the lack of sufficient documentation and the problem of children registered to more than one mother.
Ms F Batyi (ID) asked how registration would occur at hospitals and who would take responsibility for managing the process. The status of a child with a foreign father and a South African mother required clarity.
Ms M Magazi (ANC) referred to individuals with the same name and ID number and the subsequent loss of subsidies which took time to resolve.
Mr Chavalala responded that the mobile units were specialised vehicles designed to deal with rough terrain. A distribution plan had been compiled within the Eastern Cape including online registration.
Mr Kritzinger noted that the DSD had requested further data from the Department which would be provided such as the link between children and mothers. The Department was committed to co-operative government with other departments and workshops had been conducted with DSD to discuss strategies. Any requests directed at the Department for information would be met. A child could only qualify for citizenship if one of the parents was a South African citizen or a permanent resident. Temporary residency would not allow for registration.
Mr Tlhomelang (Director: Immigration) stated that unaccompanied children were brought to centres by SAPS personnel and international organisations were approached to identify parents which was a difficult process. DSD was informed upon arrival of children and the necessary care was provided. Illegal foreigners were attempting to marry South Africans dying of Aids in order to acquire citizenship or pay for marriage and the Department was aware of widespread criminal behaviour.
Mr Kritzinger stated that a registration programme had been launched in 1998 in collaboration with the Department of Health to register births within hospitals and assist mothers with administrative procedures. Forms would be sent to, or collected by, the nearest Home Affairs office. A workstation would now be placed within each hospital manned by a Home Affairs official and certificates would be issued immediately. The rollout within each province regarding online registration would be determined by the respective provinces and details would be provided.
Mr Chavalala stated that the objective of the Department was to have all offices computerised by the end of the financial year.
Mr Kritzinger stated that a sound working relationship between Home Affairs and DSD existed to improve the issuing of child grants. Joint ventures occurred within the Eastern Cape involving educational drives. The issue of delays caused by inefficiencies was discussed in planning meetings and solutions had been identified to fast-track the provision of grants.
Mr Tlhomelang stated that the trafficking of men was not as serious as that involving women and children. Various law enforcement agencies were involved in trying to curb the phenomenon but few witnesses were available. Crime syndicates were involved.
Mr Kritzinger added that the issuing of IDs for street children was problematic as confirmation of status was difficult due to a lack of source documents and the absence of parents. Welfare reports were considered to determine nationality but the process was laboured. The situation demanded more collaboration between relevant departments and the establishment of appropriate structures. The Department was aware of schemes involving children with more than one registered parent in order to access grants. Adequate investigation around each application was difficult due to resource limitations and improper documentation.
Measures had been applied by DSD to curtail fraudulent applications such as requesting the presence of the child when applying. Some controls were in place such as identifying anomalies where two children were born within nine months to the same mother. Registrations within hospitals would occur by means of Home Affairs staff to reduce the adverse impact on hospital staff. A child would be a South African citizen if one of the parents were a citizen or a permanent resident. Fingerprint records were being computerised to prevent duplication of identities and to identify duplication.
Mr B Solo (ANC) stated that the late issuing of the presentation document hindered the ability of Members to provide meaningful responses. He asked who was responsible for handing over an unaccompanied child to the DSD. Clarity was sought on whether a man who was not the biological father could register a child in the absence of the deceased mother. Grandparents were instructed by Home Affairs officials to find the parents when requesting registration that was often impossible. He asked whether the Department had guidelines to address these difficulties and to ensure that children received the necessary documentation. No integrated system appeared to exist between the Department and the Department of Health regarding the registration of children.
Ms Chalmers asked for clarity on the status of children of migrant workers regarding registration.
Mr M Waters (DA) asked whether private hospitals would be included in the system of registration of births. He asked what measures were in place to reduce the number of fraudulent marriages and whether corrupt officials were being identified and arrested. The issuing of grants within rural areas was difficult and the mobile units could assist but an agreement with DSD was needed. The reduction of fees within rural areas would assist the process. He asked how children’s nationality within child-headed households would be determined considering the lack of proof in order to access an ID.
Ms I Ludwabe (ANC) expressed appreciation for the provision of mobile units in the rural areas and indicated a dire need for units within the Port Elizabeth vicinity. Further expansion of communication programmes was needed to inform rural inhabitants of the procedures to acquire documentation.
Ms H Bogopane-Zulu (ANC) stated that the priority was to implement legislation but certain problems remained. The Department needed to conduct extensive research to identify problem areas and devise effective responses. Inconsistencies prevailed within the Department despite the sound contribution of certain officials. A more flexible approach to children’s needs should be encouraged taking into account the particular circumstances of each case. The Department’s IT system had to be reconfigured in consultation with the Public Service to avoid anomalies in service delivery. The presentation lacked sufficient detail regarding disabled children that remained a key area. Communication campaigns within the rural areas had to consider the rate of illiteracy and rural-friendly programmes were crucial. The phenomenon of juvenile marriages needed further consideration including the mechanism to detect abuse. The age of adulthood needed confirmation to prevent confusion and provide for consistency in administrative application.
Ms I Direko (ANC) referred to the influx of retrenched farm workers into urban areas and the subsequent problems in accessing relevant information from former locales as requested by Home Affairs when attempting to acquire vital documentation. For example, many farms had collapsed and farm schools no longer existed. Departmental officials handled such cases with extreme insensitivity and delayed procedures. The reliance on international organisations such as the UNHCR to resolve cases of unaccompanied children was questioned and more involvement from the Department was recommended. A more streamlined approach was necessary in the processing of applications to prevent delay. Improved linkages should be established between Head Office and the regional offices coupled with enhanced work ethics from officials.
Mr Kritzinger responded that many officials were excelling and determined to provide sound service but acknowledged that significant problems remained. The Department was aware of public dissatisfaction and strategies were being devised to improve overall efficacy. A Deputy-Director-General position had been created to enhance service delivery and advances would be made.
Mr Tlhomelang stated that international entities were involved to identify the national origin of unaccompanied children and attempts to trace parents due to extensive experience in such matters. The identification of parents was complicated and often proved fruitless. The phenomenon of duplicate ID numbers often arose through the negligence of staff in processing application forms and the conversion from hand-written forms to electronic format. The provision of computers in all offices would reduce the level of error. Interaction with international bodies was characterised by delays due to slow reaction times.
Mr Kritzinger stated that training programmes would be instituted to improve officials’ understanding of the procedure around the registration of births.
Mr Chavalala added that a training team was in place and focused on producing a standardised approach to service delivery and working procedures.
Mr Kritzinger replied that the status of migrant children depended on the status of one parent being either a South African citizen or permanent resident.
Mr Solo stated that a help desk should be established at Home Affairs offices to assist in the determination of nationality.
Mr Tlhomelang stated that a temporary resident could register a child with Home Affairs but a birth certificate could only be obtained from the relevant Embassy.
Mr Kritzinger responded that private hospitals were not included in the current project to provide online registration but would be considered in future. The focus was on hospitals serving the interests of the poor and marginalised. Clinics in deep rural areas would also be considered. Regional managers would concentrate on reducing the level of fraudulent marriages and devise methods to combat criminal syndicates. The Department and DSD would co-operate to improve service delivery.
Fees were prescribed and had to be adhered to but the Director-General could waive fees in special circumstances. All relevant documents that could assist in the identification of a child’s place of birth would be considered and affidavits could be utilised if no documentation existed. A more flexible approach to processing children’s applications would be considered but legal issues could not be ignored. The updating of the National Population Register would be communicated to the wider community.
Ms Bogopane-Zulu stated that Home Affairs’ buildings required improved access for disabled people and general awareness of disabled people’s needs should be inculcated.
Mr Kritzinger concurred that buildings should be compatible to the needs of the disabled and considerations would be noted. Communication campaigns were focused on the needs of rural communities to improve service delivery. The Department would focus on the issue of underage marriages and the communication programme would contain extensive information to discourage such practices. The age of majority was 18 in accordance with constitutional principles. The Department had to play a high-profile role in issues involving unaccompanied refugee children in partnership with international organisations.
Dr Mabetoa (Chief Director: DSD) stated that various international agreements were in place to address cases of unaccompanied minors and an interdepartmental understanding had been reached involving Home Affairs, Social Development and Justice to enhance responses.
Mr Kritzinger acknowledged that discrepancies in service delivery remained but would be addressed in partnership with stakeholders and the Committee.
Dr Mabetoa stated that a strong working relationship existed between Home Affairs and Social Development and the concerns of the Department would be highlighted during upcoming workshops to be conducted on the Children’s Bill.
The Chairperson agreed that Home Affairs needed the involvement of Social Development and Justice to heighten the chances of improving service delivery and continued support from the Committee could be relied upon. Future meetings should include the Director-General to deepen policy input.
The meeting was adjourned.