South Africa’s decision to scrap laws that required travelers to produce unabridged birth certificates and supporting documents for children travelling across its borders has left Basotho minors prone to human trafficking.
From June 01, 2015, Department of Home Affairs in South Africa introduced immigration regulations that required all passengers under the age of 18 to travel in and out of the country with an unabridged birth certificate to combat child trafficking.
According to South Africa Department of Home Affairs, 30 000 minors are trafficked through South African borders every year and 50 percent of these minors are under the age of 14.
In a related development, South African home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi signed a waiver on November 08, effectively removing regulations on unabridged birth certificates for travelling foreign minors to South Africa.
Motsoaledi said they struck off the regulations because they “…had caused significant harm to South Africa’s inbound tourism sector”.
In an interview with MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, Tsukutlane Au who was Lesotho minister of Home Affair post implementation of the policy showed concern over the new changes, pointing out they might expose children to human trafficking.
He said the safety of minors at the border can no longer be guaranteed as consent papers from parents are no longer needed, meaning anyone can easily cross the border with children.
“At this point, the fear is not only children being trafficked. The situation may also amplify other various cross border crimes involving children,” said the seemingly worried Au.
Au said although he was not privy to the signing of the agreement between the two countries, he supported it because it played a huge role in ensuring the safety of children as it countered human trafficking.
On contrary, Lesotho Home Affairs Principal Secretary Machabane Lemphane-Letsie argued that counter trafficking in Lesotho is not reliant on South Africa and or its policies.
She emphasized Lesotho has own procedures in place to quell this type of crime at its border posts.
According to Letsie, the procedures include ensuring that all individuals crossing the border have valid passports such that immigration officers are able to identify them as they cross.
“We have even made changes for foot-travelers crossing to ensure that our officers are able to monitor free movement at the border,” Letsie added.
In her view, individual presentation of passports to immigration officers allows travellers who may be forced into South Africa an opportunity to seek help.
She admitted that human trafficking is common but said most cases are of people who have been forced to leave under pretenses of jobs and not so much of people being taken against their will.
“Children are the ones mostly at the risk of human trafficking because they are defenseless and cannot stand up for themselves but we should work on addressing trafficking in humans as a whole,” Letsie warned.
Letsie said implementation of the 2015 regulations may have not been the best strategy in fighting human trafficking.
In addition, she acknowledged that it was surprising that while the main concern was human trafficking for the policy implementation, the removal is only reported to be because the country’s tourism sector is performing poorly and no mention of the former.
“What we need to do going forward is align international best practices and come up with a strategy that is considerate of our economy because we cannot be implementing the same one that has been scrapped and has negative consequences on important sectors such as the tourism sector,” she stated
According to Lesotho 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, border points between Lesotho and South Africa are extremely permeable, immigration officials do not screen for trafficking indicators, and law enforcement officials are allegedly complicit with traffickers regularly operating at the Maseru border post.
“Senior immigration officials acknowledged that people regularly cross the borders in plain sight illegally, including with children, without repercussion”, reads part of the report.