Zimbabwe minors travel saga: South African minister says drivers should have been arrested

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says bus drivers who allowed scores of minors to travel from Zimbabwe to South Africa unaccompanied and without consent forms from guardians should have been arrested.

On Saturday the home affairs border management authority (BMA) conducted a sting operation at the Beitbridge port of entry and is reported to have found 443 unaccompanied minors under the age of eight. The BMA said the minors only had passports and no other required documents, such as parental consent letters.

According to home affairs unaccompanied child travellers (under 18) should have a copy of their birth certificate, parental consent letters, a copy of the passport and letter from the person who will receive the child in South Africa with contact details.

Motsoaledi believes the bus drivers should have been arrested by the BMA.

“Our guards are new. I believe they should have arrested those drivers. They said no because the children produced passports and the drivers might have said it was legal,” he said.

In an interview with Newzroom Afrika, Motsoaledi said the department was in consultation with Zimbabwean authorities to conduct further investigations into what was alleged to be “human trafficking” by the BMA.

“I am sure they [authorities] can look for the drivers because they cannot just disappear into Zimbabwe. Many of them are in business and they cannot just stop,” he said.

TimesLIVE Premium spoke to long-distance bus operators between Zimbabwe and South Africa who said the saga about the minors was due to a sudden change in policy by the BMA.

Motsoaledi defended the BMA for describing the situation as “human trafficking”.

“The fact remains that an eight-year-old is found in a plane, bus or car crossing a border with no other documents from parents or authorities except that child is carrying a passport. It is safer to regard it as trafficking until proven otherwise,” Motsoaledi said.

“Even if you can prove they are not being trafficked, what has happened is illegal and should not be allowed in any country.”

There has been a clash about the number of unaccompanied children between Zimbabwe and the South African government.

Zimbabwe’s public service, labour and social welfare minister July Moyo said from November 25 to December 3 124 children were handed over to the department.

“Upon identification, the children were moved to a place of safety at Beitbridge reception centre awaiting relatives/family tracing and reunification. To date 101 children have been reunified.”

Moyo said efforts to get the 23 remaining children to their parents were underway.

“Most of the identified children are from Bulawayo metropolitan province and Matabeleland south province. The children were mainly intercepted attempting to cross the border without the requisite travelling documents.

“Others were travelling without an accompanying parent or guardian. The ministry is working with the Zimbabwe Republic police to find the perpetrators of this heinous offence. As a preventive measure, the ministry is conducting a nationwide awareness-raising programme to sensitise citizens on responsible parenting and safe migration.”

The BMA told TimesLIVE a statement would be issued on Tuesday to clarify the contradiction in numbers.

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