Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
A total of 150 children were this year intercepted while being smuggled into either South Africa or Zimbabwe, while 79 local minors are being held at care centres in Limpopo province, an action committee has revealed. A quarterly meeting of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Cross-Border Coordination Committee for Unaccompanied and Separated Migrant Children raised concern over the rampant smuggling of minors between the two countries’ borders.

The committee is made up of officials from the two nations’ social service departments, immigration, police, non-governmental organisations and human rights lawyers.

Speaking during the meeting held in Beitbridge on Tuesday, the committee’s co-chairperson, Mr Craig Nkomo, said they had roped in a number of border stakeholders to deal with issues of child smuggling.

He said cases of irregular migration of minors were rife during school holidays.

Last year, 120 children were intercepted in December alone.

Mr Nkomo said a total of 150 children were this year intercepted at Beitbridge Border Post and around Limpopo province while being transported to either country.

“It is sad that we continue to have parents or guardians who expose their children to illegal migration,” he said. “Most of the intercepted children are from Bulawayo and Chiredzi and their destination in South Africa is mainly Johannesburg in Gauteng Province.

“In general, the largest number was intercepted in the month of January, while the movement was significantly lower in April.”

Mr Nkomo said investigations by the social services department revealed that most of the children were visiting their parents in South Africa.

He said that Zimbabwean authorities had adopted a zero tolerance to the smuggling of children and other illegal immigrants.

Mr Nkomo said authorities were impounding vehicles of those facilitating irregular migration.

“Besides having the vehicles impounded, the culprits are being sent to court for prosecution,” he said. “It has also become apparent that in some cases, irregular migration among these children is a result of peer pressure,” he said.

He said they had scaled up awareness campaigns in the high migrant areas, with the view of reducing incidents of child smuggling.

Mr Nkomo said their target was to reduce the number of children being smuggled between the two countries to less than 30 per year.

“We need to redouble our efforts as stakeholders in addressing the root causes to this trend,” he said. “It is pleasing that since we created this forum around 2015, cases of children being deported from South Africa together with adults have stopped.”

The committee’s South African co-chair, Mr Robert Mukwevho, said they had 79 unaccompanied minors who were being kept at child and youth care centres dotted around Limpopo Province.

He said the majority were Zimbabweans, adding that they were working on reuniting the children with their parents.

“We are working on getting court orders for us to keep the children for three months while we trace their parents,” said Mr Mukwevho.

“In case we don’t find them in that period we apply to keep them for two years while we exhaust all avenues to trace the relatives.”

Mr Mukwevho said in some instances, they had to enrol those of school-going age in learning institutions, though they still had challenges in securing places in the absence of documentation.

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