Strengthening the realisation of migrant children's rights in Southern Africa

Strengthening the realisation of migrant children's rights in Southern Africa

The journey of unaccompanied migrant children in Southern Africa

This action aimed at ensuring that countries within the Southern Africa Region, specifically Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, are better able to address irregular and risky migration.

Richard Young, European Commission


When the right to life, survival and development is threatened, migration becomes a coping mechanism. Despite the lack of registration and tracking systems, the World Bank reports that more than one third of global migrations are South-South movements. This includes unaccompanied and separated children, who are vulnerable to violence, prejudice and exploitation, exacerbated by their naivety and trust for adults. Before this programme, child protection systems within SA, Zimbabwe and Mozambique were marginally responsive to children engaged in or at risk of irregular migration.


  • By 2015, less children in Southern Africa suffer violence, abuse, and exploitations as a result of irregular migration
  • Increased understanding and commitment to realizing the protection rights of migrant children at South African Development Community (SADC), MIDSA and between national governments.
  • 66 000 children (boys and girls) from Mozambique and Zimbabwe have increased knowledge and access to protection risks information during migration and are supported to ensure safe migration and return/repatriation.
  • 20 000 migrant children (boys and girls) have increased access to essential services and are integrated into the national child protection system in South Africa


  • The planed result was SADC protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons and the SADC Minimum Package of Services for OVCY makes specific provision for migrant children. SADC's newly endorsed Southern Africa Strategic Plan to Address Mixed and Irregular migration now includes a section on the Protection of Unaccompanied Migrant Children, which will inform the design and implementation of child protection procedure across borders within echoing National Action Plans in Member States.
  • Migration Dialogue for Southern Africa (MIDSA) now includes the protection of unaccompanied migrant children as a standing agenda item their annual agenda.
  • Through the programme, an inter-agency steering group was formed comprising Save the Children, IOM, UNHCR, UNODC, and International Detention Coalition to support the national implementation of the new Southern Africa Strategic Plan to Address Mixed and Irregular Migration. The steering group continue to exist after the action has come to an end and new funds have been secured to support its continuation harmonising policies and coordination between the three governments.
  • Through collaboration with SADC and national governments in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, 59 670 children directly accessed child protection and other essential services (i.e counselling) in communities of origin in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
  • Through various training and resource mobilisation processes, 1060 Community Child Care Workers were capacitated to address migrating children's protection rights in Zimbabwe. 30 Officers from the Department of Child Welfare and Probation Services were trained in identification, documentation, tracing and reunification guidelines. In Mozambique 104 members of the child protection community committees benefited from similar trainings
  • Various duty bearers representing the SA Police Services, Department of Home Affairs, the SA Defence Force, and SA Revenue Services were capacitated to facilitate migrant children's entry into the South African child protection system through referral, ensuring increased access to services for migrant children. Teachers, youth facilitators, municipalities around the border were also trained to improve the identification, monitoring, mentoring and referral within communities.


  • Amount committed: 2 084 522 EUR (estimated at R 34 000 000)
  • Target group: boys and girls who may or may not be migrants; relevant government departments and politicians; regional bodies such as SADC and MIDSA
  • Approximately 73 000 children across Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe benefited directly from child protection and essential services as a result of this action. 90.4 % of the beneficiaries accessed the service in communities of origin.
  • 5 reception centres were established in SA, managed by social works and social auxiliary workers under the Department of Social Development.
  • By 2015 about 271 children were supported to attend formal schooling, 47 benefited from health services with 11 receiving psychosocial support services; 24 cases for family reunification were traced and 12 children whose families were successfully traced
  • 176 children received interim care and escort services at reception centres in Beitbridge and Bulilima districts following deportation.
  • 212 unaccompanied migrant children were assisted to access shelter in South Africa.


Ms. Margaret Mokhuane, Project Officer, EU Delegation to South Africa

A growing number of unaccompanied children migrate across borders, driven by factors such as poverty, conflict and the rise in global youth unemployment. Doing this happens at a high risk to the most vulnerable people in our society, as these young children often fall victim to rape, trafficking, exploitation and violence.

Melinda van Zyl, Project Manager from Save the Children explained at the launch of the project: "The project was designed to address unsafe migration, by strengthening the responses, both at the transitional country and the destination."

Through this action, Save the Children took the lead in building teams that aimed to better coordinate a response that enhanced engagements with government and more effectively support child protection strengthening interventions for children on the move. Activities includes commissioned studies, support to reception centres, co-hosting seminars and workshops, undertaking advocacy and providing children with information, policy inputs and operationalisation, etc. 

Excellent relationships with national government authorities resulted in high level buy-in and fast tracked commitment with appreciation especially where action corresponded with government priorities. This relationships made it possible to have cross-border engagements amongst the three countries where the bottlenecks around child migration issues could be discussed, resulting in increases requests for voluntary repatriations by children in South African places of temporary safe care. Cross-border meetings were used to discuss pertinent issues such as unlawful deportation of children across the borders, documentation (or lack thereof) of migrant children. PN, a migrant girl from Zimbabwe residing in a shelter in Limpopo, explained in an interview conducted by the International Organization for Migration: "Unless you have a passport, you are a dumaduma (lost) and cannot attend school."

"We will work hard to ensure that there is no discrimination of these children when they land on our soil", Dr. Tebogo Mabe from the Department of Social Development said in 2013.