New regulations - child safety is a priority
There are a number of regulations that are being implemented, but perhaps among the most contentious of them are the new requirements for parents travelling with minor children. These require parents to have an unabridged birth certificate for the child (when leaving or entering the country), as well as an affidavit from the non-travelling parent, granting the other parent permission to travel alone with the child.
According to Mayihlome Tshwete, media liaison for the Department of Home Affairs, the new regulations are a means of implementing laws laid out in the Children’s Act of 2005.
One of the reasons for implementing these new regulations is to ensure the safety of children who are travelling.
Tshwete told Justmoney: “I don’t think we should make it easy for anyone who wants to traffic a child, or anyone who wants to move with a child who doesn’t have consent from both parents. I don’t think it is going to be a cure for all of our challenges, but I don’t think we should make it easier either. In the current format it is way too easy. It’s very easy for a child to just get a visa online, get a flight and travel out of the country.”
June Crawford, CEO of the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (BARSA) highlights: “While we recognise and support the DHA’s role in protecting our borders and to tackle issues around security and trafficking of people, we urge the department to tackle this issue in a manner that minimises the unintended negative consequences, which could severely impact South Africa’s potential economic growth. We have already seen widespread reports of a reduction in the number of tourists arriving in South Africa, an increase in cancellations, and a significant reduction in the number of forward bookings from a wide range of industry players.”
The new regulations have been informed by the Children’s Act, which sets “out principles relating to the care and protection of children,” Tshwete points out.
Prior to these new regulations being implemented, Tshwete reveals that children were able to enter and exit the country with very little paperwork (other than a passport) needed by the authorities.
“We were allowing children to move in and out of the country without the right information. The new regulations are about giving us the means to implement the existing law. People who have an issue with the regulations should rather have an issue with the law,” says Tshwete.
Unabridged birth certificates and affidavits
James Vos, DA shadow minister of tourism, highlighted that for those who weren’t issued an unabridged birth certificate at birth it can take up to eight weeks to complete the entire application process and receive an unabridged birth certificate.
This may raise concerns for many parents, especially if they need to leave the country quickly, as there have been reports that Home Affairs is struggling to keep up with the demand for unabridged birth certificates, and the new regulations haven’t even been implemented yet.
What if parents need to leave the country or enter South Africa for a family member’s funeral and they don’t have time to get the necessary documentation?
That will mean that either the parents will not be able to travel to the funeral if there is no one else to look after the child while the parents are away, or one of the parents will have to go and the other stay behind to look after the child.
Crawford states: “There is no international, and in some cases, national, standard for birth certificates. Each country has the right to develop their own document in their own language that proves the birth of a person. Some countries do not even issue birth certificates. Furthermore, no country in the world requires a child who is accompanied by his/her parents, whether he/she is a citizen of the country or not, to travel with a birth certificate.
“As a signatory of the Chicago Convention, South Africa and hence airlines should only be accepting passports and applicable visas as valid identification documentation. Birth certificates are not deemed to be valid identification documentation under the Convention. Airlines are also not equipped or skilled to validate birth certificates for children and cannot be held responsible for validating birth certificates for children, when there will be more than 190 different permutations of these globally, sometimes in a language that the airline staff are not versed in,” she adds.
In addition to the unabridged birth certificate, if only one parent is travelling with the child, that parent will need to present an affidavit signed by the other parent giving them permission to leave the country with the child.
At one point there was discussion that a suggested format for the affidavit be provided (see here). However, Tshwete reveals that for convenience sake this has not been implemented, and parents simply need to go to their nearest police station with a letter/document stating that they give the one parent (or a guardian) permission to leave the country with their child, and have it certified by a commissioner of oaths.
However, in cases of divorce where one parent has full custody of a child, a court order is in place that gives the custodian the right to travel with the child, without the need to attain an affidavit from the other parent giving them permission. “If a court order says that you have full custody, then we go on that,” explains Tshwete.
Impact on the airlines
While all of these new regulations are set to improve the safety it is thought that they will have a negative impact on the airlines.
Vos points out that according to BARSA, the new regulations “could cost the tourism sector over R6.8 billion in losses and result in severe job cuts.”
He adds: “A child denied boarding by an airline ultimately means a family cannot travel and, by industry estimates, until traveller awareness is 100%, tourist arrivals to South Africa could be negatively impacted by up to 20%. Based on 2013 numbers, 536 000 foreign visitors could be denied travel.”
It is the responsibility of the airlines to ensure that any adults traveling with minors have the relevant documentation to allow them to enter South Africa, according to Tshwete. It they do not have this documentation upon arrival in South Africa, the airline will be responsible for returning the child to the country of origin and at a cost to themselves. Therefore, airlines will have to ensure that everything is in order before a flight leaves for South Africa.
Shaun Pozyn, head of marketing for kulula.com and British Airways (operated by Comair) says: “Since the announcement of the new date, we have worked with numerous stakeholders both within the organisationas well as external parties, such as our partners, trade [and so on], to ensure we are able to reach as many of our customers as possible and inform them of the new requirements.”
He added: “From a British Airways point-of-view, we have put the necessary procedures in place and will ensure that we comply with the regulations from 1 June 2015.”
The future of tourism
Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism believes that the new regulations will affect tourism. “The key thing at this stage is that there is a lot of confusion about the requirements and we are concerned that this confusion exists on several layers in the travel cycle. South Africa already has a number of barriers to tourism, particularly its distance from source markets. Adding another barrier is highly counter-productive.”
Pozyn notes: “Varioustravel and tourism organisations have indicated that this new regulation could/will result in a decrease in international travel, thus having a negative impact on the overall economy. Other concerns that have been raised are, that some countries do not provide unabridged birth certificates and how will the Immigration Offices verify unabridged birth certificates that are in a foreign language.”
Crawford adds: “Travellers already view the need for visas as a formality that imposes a cost and if the direct or indirect cost and inconvenience of obtaining a visa and/or, in this case a birth certificate, exceeds a threshold, potential travellers will simply be deterred from travelling to South Africa and choose an alternative destination with less hassle involved. Many people do not even have a copy of their birth certificate. Therefore obtaining a certified copy of this document could be costly and time-consuming. For some countries, this could take months.”
According to Crawford, current international ticketing and reporting systems for the aviation industry mean that airlines do not know the age of a passenger until check-in at the airport unless a child ticket is purchased. Therefore if a non-compliant family arrives at the airport for their flight, they will not be allowed to travel.
She adds: “The airline community will be held responsible and carry the expense of repatriating those that do arrive in South Africa without the adequate documentation, but the details of this repatriation, [in other words,] whether there will be space on flights to repatriate them, [and provide them with] hotel accommodation, where they will be detained, and so on have yet to be shared with the airline community less than a week before implementation.”
Striking an equal balance
While there is a need to tackle child trafficking, the new laws could result in other more negative consequences such as a drop in tourism, as well as an impact on the aviation industry, which the likes of struggling SAA can’t afford.
There have been several cases over the years of a divorced parent taking their child and fleeing the country without the knowledge of the other parent (known as parental child abduction). For example, May who was taken from Cyprus to Syria by her father without her mother’s permission, and was reunited two years later, or Alondra Diaz who was taken from Texas to Mexico by her father without her mother’s knowledge and was only reunited with her mother eight years later.
These are only two examples from a number of similar incidents that have taken place throughout the world. It is obvious that stricter laws need to be in place to prevent a child from being unlawfully removed from a country without one or both parent’s knowledge. However, this needs to be done in such a way that it does not impact on tourism, and in turn the economy.
Crawford stressed: “We appeal to President Jacob Zuma, as he pledged during his State of the Nation address earlier this year, to review the visa regulations to “strike a balance between national security and growth in tourism”. There should be time for the tourism industry, relevant aid organisations and the DHA to work together in ensuring an holistic and realistic solution is developed, tested and implemented to combat child trafficking and abduction across South Africa’s borders.”
Vos adds: “We know [Malusi] Gigaba (Minister of Home Affairs) has good intentions. Security and prevention of child trafficking are very important. But his department let him down by not informing him of the unintended consequences and international best practice.”
Duminyadds: “We (Cape Town Tourism) are aware that the new laws were created in an attempt to curb child trafficking but we fear that they will not have the impact that Home Affairs is seeking, as child traffickers can merely avoid formal border controls. What we strongly object to is the way that the new visa laws have been introduced. There has been no consultation, no impact study on its effects on tourism, very little communication and a general unwillingness shown by Home Affairs to engage with the tourism industry about our concerns.
“We were very concerned that Home Affairs waited until there were two weeks to go before distributing operating procedures (and have since had to send points of clarity on several matters) and we are worried about the capacity and knowledge within the system as a whole.”
For information on travelling abroad with children from the Home Affairs, click here.