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SA looks to biometrics innovation to curb problem of undocumented children

Home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says his department does not know the number of undocumented children in SA.
Home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says his department does not know the number of undocumented children in SA.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The government does not know how many undocumented children there are in SA.

This was revealed by home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi in response to a parliamentary question by IFP MP Liezl van der Merwe earlier this month.

She asked Motsoaledi how many undocumented children there were in SA. 

She also asked about the department's intentions to address the problem of “children being rendered vulnerable due to being undocumented"..

“The department does not have the records of undocumented children as the records at its disposal are of those who are documented. As such it is difficult to ascertain the number of the undocumented children being those born to SA parents or foreign nationals,” said Motsoaledi.

“Undocumented persons have to present themselves for registration on the National Population Register by the department to achieve such.”

He said Stats SA is tasked with producing “timely, accurate and accessible official statistics from the civil registration system. Within this system, the department of health is responsible for registration of births occurring in health facilities.

“The aim of government is to ensure that babies are registered and issued with birth certificates shortly after birth at health facilities, for collection of vital statistics which are important for planning and service delivery.”

Motsoaledi said his department operated within a legislative framework that prescribes registration of birth within 30 days. He said the department continued to conduct outreach programmes led by his deputy to encourage parents to register births of their children.

“The department of home affairs is in collaboration with International Social Services (ISS), which is a unit within the department of social development (DSD) that renders intercountry social assistance, paying particular attention to destitute and vulnerable children who might have experienced social problems as a result of international migration,” he said.

“The department in its co-operation is ensuring the best interest of the child and safeguarding the smooth facilitation process during the child’s repatriation in collaboration with DSD.”

Motsoaledi said, in the past three years his department, in co-operation with the department of social development, facilitated repatriation of undocumented foreign children born to foreign nationals to their countries of origin.

He said a total of 52 children were repatriated to Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Nigeria and Mozambique between 2019 and 2021.

“Further modernisation and integration of systems mean the DHA will introduce the automated biometric identification system (ABIS) which will enable capturing of more biometrics,” he said.

“The current home affairs national identity system only records two biometrics - that is, photos and finger prints. The ABIS will record at least five biometrics; that is, fingerprints, palm print, facial, iris and photo recognition.”

Motsoaledi said his department had asked the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to look into a possible use or introduction of biometrics associated with identity management for children. “The DHA is still researching on the options such as foot/palm print, iris, DNA and fingerprint for children,” he said.

“However, the official identity management policy which was approved by cabinet for public consultation in the last financial year recommends that a combination of different biometric data for children should be considered with options such as the fingerprints, palm prints and footprints.

“This will depend on the availability of proven technology. The policy will be submitted to cabinet for approval by March 31 2022. Once approved by cabinet, the policy will be translated into a new Identification Act that will regulate capturing of personal information (biographic and biometric data) for all children born in SA.”

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