16 Days: The Vulnerability of Child Migrants

During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.

The vulnerability of child migrants

G was born in Malawi. She lived with her mother who is unemployed and very sick. Her mother could not take proper care of G, who would miss school to look after her mother; sometimes for more than 2 weeks at a time. Her father was working in South Africa and providing money for the family but it was not enough to cover the family’s basic needs. When she was 15, G’s father sent for her and her sister. She now lives with him in South Africa.

In January this year, G and her sister went back to Malawi to visit her mother; a trip that her father had arranged with the help of a truck driver. On their way back to South Africa, the truck driver made a stop at a garage to rest for the night. While her little sister was sleeping, the truck driver made advances at G who rejected them. The truck driver then tried forcing himself on her and she started screaming. This woke up her little sister, who hit him, which made the truck driver let G go. After that incident, the truck driver refused to give the sisters food or water and refused to stop the truck when the sisters wanted to use the bathroom. They did not tell anyone about this incident because the truck driver had threatened to kill their father.

A study of unaccompanied minors travelling across the border conducted by Save the Children in 2007 found that children are the most vulnerable group of people and more likely to be exploited by “guides”. More recent reports by UNICEF, operating in the border town of Musina, indicate that this vulnerability is ongoing. Their reports indicate that the dangers faced by unaccompanied children include being targeted by criminals and being vulnerable to sexual violence on the border. Guides were commonly the perpetrators of violence against the children and were the most likely group to elicit bribes from the children. The study found that 14% of children had been assaulted whilst attempting to cross the border.



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The Legal Resources Centre is a public interest law clinic established in South Africa in 1979

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