New regulations likely to disc

New regulations likely to discourage families from travelling to SA

In a bid to curb child trafficking, the South African government has introduced some controversial new document requirements with regard to children travelling in and out of SA. But will all the hassle prove worthwhile or will it chase away tourists?

New regulations likely to disc

The South African government has introduced new travel regulations as part of its new Immigration Act, which are designed to combat child trafficking but are effectively discouraging family travel into the country.

The new law will require parents and legal guardians of any nationality arriving in and departing from South Africa to produce unabridged birth certificates (in addition to passports) for the children they are travelling with. Coming into effect straight away, as issued in the Government Gazette on 26th May 2014, the new regulation holds many more caveats than just having to present an additional document at a port of entry.

For one thing, it is assumed that the birth certificates will need to be in English or will otherwise have to be accompanied by notarised translations; however, while almost all countries feature English translations on birth certificates, this may not be true in all territories.

But the new travel requirements are further complicated in cases where children are only accompanied by one parent or legal guardian, in which event an affidavit from the other parent or a copy of a court order stating sole custody would also be required – on top of the unabridged birth certificate. Any of these affidavits would have to be notarised, which will involve further costs. In the case of a deceased parent, a copy of the death certificate of the other parent will need to be presented instead.

In general terms, it would appear that cases with just one parent present in a child’s life will bear the brunt of the new law, making the lives of single parents more difficult than those of intact, nuclear families. It is entirely uncertain how families with uncommon lifestyles, such as members of the LGBT community or surrogates might be treated under the enforcement of the new regulation, but it is expected that more likely than not, further difficulty might be ahead.

But you don’t need to have a “modern family” to end up in a bureaucratic quagmire under the new guidelines. If a child is accompanied by anyone other than a parent or a legal guardian, affidavits from both parents or legal guardians will have to be presented at immigration, allowing the child to travel with that specified person. This requirement is in addition to full copies of the parents’ or legal guardians’ ID documents as well as detailed information about where the child will be staying upon arrival, including copies of ID documents of the individuals with whom the child will be staying at his or her destination.

The theoretical absurdity of the new regulation can easily be shown in the case of a single parent sending his or her child away with a close relative to spend the holidays with the grandparents in South Africa. In addition to his or her passport, the child would have to present an unabridged birth certificate, a document either stating consent from the other parent or proving sole custody (or a death certificate pertaining to the other parent – whichever is applicable), an affidavit from each parent allowing the child to travel in the company of said relative (possibly another two documents), full copies of the parents’ IDs and full copies of the relatives’ IDs who the child will be visiting in South Africa. This could mean up to eight documents required to be presented at immigration – plus a passport.

While the birth certificate and copies of ID documents are likely to feature English wording in almost all countries, some documents, such as a death certificate or sole custody certificate may not be issued in English in certain territories, subsequently requiring notarised translations, which will only result in further documentation required and additional costs involved. In some scenarios, children might have to travel with more than ten documents in total per child just to get in and out of SA – regardless of nationality or purpose of the stay.

Considering the rather sensitive nature of the information contained in those documents, including full addresses, ID numbers and other personal data, it could be easy to get this information into the wrong hands if the child in question lost any of the documents during transit or the documents were stolen, making a rather strong case for the potential of identity theft.

In addition to making travel plans to SA both logistically and emotionally taxing, it is expected that the new regulations will also discourage growth in the tourism sector – at a time, when South Africa’s economy might be on the brink of another recession.

However, in the light of child abductions and questionable custody cases challenging immigration officials, some level of merit must be afforded to the new regulations. According to LexisNexus, SA is among the world’s top 10 hotspots for human trafficking, with estimates of children ranging from 67 victims in the past two years to several hundred; however, popular claims that well over 30,000 children have been trafficked in and out South Africa over recent years have been proven incorrect.

JP Breytenbach of Breytenbachs Immigration Consultants says the overall benefit of the new regulation does outweigh its disadvantages:

“While the new regulations will probably be an inconvenience for many persons, Breytenbachs feels that in the light of the reality of child trafficking and kidnapping it is a necessary, prudent approach. It might be an inconvenience to some parents but it serves to protect their children after all.”

For the time being, the government has granted a ‘grace period’ until 1st October 2014 for families, who have already made travel plans. They will be reminded of the new requirements but won’t be expected to adhere to them. However, expats hoping to come home for the Christmas holidays should start making travel plans soon, as it seems that from this year on there will be a lot more required than just booking flights and getting your passports ready, especially if getting unabridged birth certificates from the Department of Home Affairs is involved in your family’s case.

Breytenbachs advises all South African parents (especially those in the UK) to apply for an unabridged birth certificate for their children, even if they are not planning to travel overseas soon. “This will at least provide them with the peace of mind that they will be able to travel to and from South Africa at any time, should there be a family emergency forcing them to travel unexpectedly.”

But with a backlog of document requests at the Department of Home Affairs making it one of most underperforming government departments, long waits are almost guaranteed. Breytenbachs recommends quick action and a lot of patience:

“There might also be cases where parents are unable to obtain unabridged birth certificates in time for their travel plans. The Department of Home Affairs is at present battling to keep up with the number of applications for the issue of birth certificates, and although they state eight weeks, which is already a long period of time, from our experience, they at times cannot keep up with this timeline.”

For births registered since March 2014, the Department of Home Affairs issues unabridged birth certificates as a matter of course, however for births predating March 2014, unabridged birth certificates must be specifically requested.

A petition to revise these new guidelines and grant a longer grace period until other solutions to the immigration reforms can be established has been launched on The petition also addresses further discrepancies presented in new immigration guidelines introduced in late May and has so far attracted over 2,000 signatures, aiming to reach at least 10,000. However, the petition does not carry any legal weight and cannot guarantee results.

In the meantime, it is not just the South African authorities struggling with issuing official documentation in time for travel arrangements; the UK Passport Office currently reports a backlog of tens of thousands of cases, with British citizens even having to resort to cancelling holidays on account of not having  travel documents.