Save the Children was the chosen charity for the African Legal Awards. That lawyers have been asked to focus on its work is because this is a profession that can impact the lives of the most vulnerable. Bernadette Wicks attended the event in Johannesburg.
Nyika Machendjedze , project manager for Children on the Move, pictured at the Nosa Early Learning Centre in Winterveld.
Last year, Hopeful Sithole* completed his matric with four distinctions. It is an achievement that anyone would be proud of but for Sithole, a child migrant who fled Zimbabwe for South Africa when he was 13-years-old, it is an especially remarkable accomplishment and one which he says would not have been possible without the intervention of Save the Children.
Sithole is a product of the ‘Children on the Move’ project which works to ensure that unencumbered, separated migrant children have access to the basic and protective services that all children are entitled to.
Just months before he was meant to write his final matric exams, Sithole was told he would not be able to sit because he did not have the necessary documentation. In the three months that followed, he was barred from the school premises, his hopes of completing his schooling all but dashed. Then, mere weeks before the start of the exams, he was told that he would, in fact, be allowed to write and was granted permission to return to school.
“I only learnt later that it was Save The Children that had been fighting my battles for me, behind the scenes,” he said, when he took to the podium to share his story at this year’s African Legal Awards, of which Save the Children was the charity partner.
He said he owed the organisation everything that he had achieved in his life.
Save the Children is rooted in the belief that “every child deserves a future and their lives, voices and future potential should be fiercely protected at all costs”.
The organisation’s work is aimed at ensuring that children from across the board are able to enjoy their rights to survival, protection, development and participation.
Nyika Machendjedze is the project manager for Children on the Move and he, too, spoke at the awards.
“There can never be a better time to speak about the protection of migrant children in South Africa than this moment,” he said, referencing the wave of xenophobic violence that has swept through the country in recent weeks.
“Although, the law says that every child in South Africa has the right to education, it is not that simple and there are heavy costs attached to a migrant child’s access to - what would otherwise be free - public services,” Machenjedze explained, “There are no systems or structures to protect migrant children from ill practices, such as child labour, and these children - who do not benefit from social protection systems - are often forced to engage in casual work, which exposes them to exploitation with limited recorse”.
Save the Children aims to ensure the welfare of these vulnerable children is protected by supporting the centres that take care of them as well as community-based education centres.
The organisation will also soon be starting a programme which strives to equip migrant children who do not have access to the formal education system, with alternative skills; and to create an avenue for skills development for these children.
“Many of our beneficiaries are now in university, studying towards their future careers, despite the difficulties that they have faced,” Machenjedze said at the awards.
Sithole is one of them. He is now in his first year of studies at the University of Limpopo studies towards Bachelor of Computer Science, a qualification he got a merit bursary to study.
“Save the Children has fueled my academics, my life and my goals,” he says, “The ball is now in my court. I believe I will not disappoint. I believe a great future awaits me”.
Africa Legal invites it’s community to offer support and essential legal skills to the Children on the Move project. To offer your assistance please contact Dianne McAlpine here
*A pseudonym has been used to protect Sithole’s true identity
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