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'New visa regulations designed to protect children'

Home Affairs said that the new regulations are designed for national security and to protect children.

FILE: Home Affairs said that the new regulations are designed for national security and to protect children. Picture: Vumani Mkhize/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Home Affairs Department said the new visa regulations for minors travelling to and from South Africa are for the purpose of protecting children and are not in the interests of profit making.

The new requirements, stipulating that children must travel with an unabridged birth certificate, have come under strong criticism from the tourism industry arguing they have disastrous effects on the sector.

In a statement, the Democratic Alliance has again called for the regulations to be scrapped, saying there has already been a 7 percent drop in overseas arrivals in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the last quarter of last year.

Home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said, "Our responsibility is not only tourism figures, it's also national security and the safety of the children. To argue that we should abandon the new regulation is obtuse.

"The regulations are not explanation by themselves, they are a means to enforce children's act of 2005."

Earlier this week, the department said the administration problems of the new travel requirements for children require better enforcement with the support of the tourism industry and not a full review.

After meeting several child advocacy groups on Thursday, the department has agreed protecting children is non-negotiable and the regulations are here to stay.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said the high number of child trafficking cases in South Africa alone emphasises that a more regulated process is necessary.

"The prevalence of child trafficking in Sub-Saharan Africa is high, with South Africa and Nigeria on top."

Gigaba once again defended the regulation saying the social cost of human trafficking will be bigger than the administrative checks and balances on travellers.

"The fundamentals of minimising the vulnerability of children will remain unmovable, but the modalities of administration can be modified and simplified for the convenience of travellers."

He said the department will be looking into future plans of amending children's passports to include the parents' details.

REACTION

Several child advocacy groups say the amendments to the requirements of children travelling in South Africa is the right step to stopping the high number of child trafficking cases in this country.

Save The Children's Gugu Ndebele said while the department must address the administrative challenges, the new regulations are necessary.

"Save The Children supports the regulations. We do agree with the minister that a lot needs to be done in ensuring that systems are in place and that they're responsive to the challenges that are facing people. But the fact that we have challenges doesn't mean that the regulations are wrong."

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef)'s Rayana Rassool said South Africa's regulations are not unique and they must be enforced.

"From Unicef's side, yes we would like to see enforcement of those regulations where they exist and also alignment to the UN convention on the right of the child."

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