TNF signs #IBELONG Open Letter as part of the fight to end statelessness

This week marks the 6th anniversary of the #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness. UNHCR launched this campaign in 2014 with the aim of ending statelessness in ten years. As signatories to the open letter, we support this campaign because we believe every child has the right to be seen, to be heard and to belong.   

A stateless person is one who is not considered as a national by any country. This means they cannot enjoy basic social protection, apply for grants, open bank accounts, enrol into schools and thus experience many forms of socio-economic and political exclusion. More than 100,000 children in South Africa are undocumented which puts them at risk of statelessness.

Through our partnership with Lawyers For Human Rights, we have identified learners in our Khulani Schools Programme who are without documentation and will face severe hardship if our laws do not change soon.

Head of Statelessness Unit at Lawyers For Human Rights, Thandeka Chauke
Thandeka Chauke, Head of Statelessness Unit at Lawyers For Human Rights

Head of Statelessness Unit at Lawyers For Human Rights, Thandeka Chauke, says “Childhood statelessness is something that should take priority because, for children, statelessness has increased ramifications, it can negatively impact the opportunities they have to carve a good life for themselves. It can limit their access to basic human rights, healthcare, education and child protection services. If we do not target childhood statelessness, we won’t make any progress because a stateless child grows into a stateless adult.”  

Some of our learners are not able to write their matric exams, receive their matric results or apply for university because they are undocumented.

 “It affects me personally because I have been trying to get into university and those who have citizenship are more favoured than me so getting a spot is really hard. I would like to study to become a surgeon because I want to help people and make my family proud.” – Anonymous learner 

“Most of the universities I want to go into will not take me. They say I must first have an ID. So, without it, I feel bad or I should just stop going to school because it’s not going to work. Where I want to go, they want an ID and I don’t have one” – Anonymous learner 

South Africa has made progress in the courts that puts the country on the path to ending statelessness for children. A High Court ruling issued an order that no learner may be excluded from a public school on the grounds that he or she does not have a birth certificate. The judge ordered that schools must accept alternative proof of identity such as an affidavit.  The High Court also found that an unmarried father’s inability to register the birth of a child in his own name, without the presence of the mother to be unconstitutional.

The court noted that children without birth certificates are ‘invisible’ and are at risk of being excluded from the education system. We believe that children must be supported to receive their basic rights and have endeavoured to shed light on this important issue.

Shalane Yuen, Executive Director of The Trevor Noah Foundation, has signed this year’s UNHCR Open letter to end statelessness, as we have seen first hand the effects this has on the academic performance and psyche of our learners. The #IBELONG campaign matters to us because we want to live in a world where every child can proudly say #IBelong.

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