The Children’s Institute (CI) and Legal Resources Centre (LRC) have secured a temporary victory in the fight to protect children without birth certificates from repeatably losing their child support grants (CSGs).
On Monday, 25 January 2021, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) agreed to reinstate the CSGs for thousands of these children. This follows SASSA’s termination of CSGs at the end of December 2020, plunging children and their families into destitution in the middle of the second wave of the Covid pandemic.
According to SASSA, there were about 16 000 children without birth certificates receiving the CSG in October 2020, and when the grants were terminated at the end of December 2020, the CI and LRC stepped in to ensure that they were reinstated. On 23 January, SASSA agreed to reinstate the grants in the February pay run, with backpay for January, and to keep them in payment for the duration of the state of disaster.
While this temporary reprieve is welcome, the CI and LRC remain concerned. The state of disaster ends on 15 February 2021, which will mean these children’s CSGs could be terminated again at the end of February.
This constant termination of the CSG is unlawful as it is not authorised by the Social Assistance Act or its Regulations. However, since 2009, SASSA has been imposing a three-month restriction on the receipt of the grants by children without birth certificates, during which an application for birth registration must be lodged with Home Affairs.
If a caregiver fails to provide a birth certificate or proof of a birth certificate application having been lodged, SASSA terminates the grant after three months.
Even in cases where proof of application to Home Affairs is provided to SASSA, our clients still have their grants terminated.
Unreasonable and unfair
This practice is unreasonable and unfair to children and their caregivers, as many are unable to apply at Home Affairs, or are subjected to long waiting periods before their documents are made available. These waiting periods have increased under the different national lockdown levels due to decreased capacity and limited types of services available at Home Affairs.
Caregivers of children without birth certificates are legally entitled to apply for a social grant in terms of regulation 11(1) of the Regulations to the Social Assistance Act. This provision allows them to gain access to a CSG, even though they do not yet have a birth certificate which is ordinarily required at the application stage of the grant.
While parents must register the birth of a child and ensure that the child receives a birth certificate, the reality is that many parents or caregivers are, due to circumstances outside of their control, unable to obtain birth certificates from Home Affairs.
Most of our clients are over the age of one, which means they require a ‘late’ birth registration which involves multiple supporting documents and an interview process. Difficulties are experienced particularly when the mother’s birth was not registered and she herself does not have an ID.
Where the child is in the care of a grandmother or other family members due to the mother’s death or she cannot be located, the law requires a social worker to register the child’s birth. Many relatives struggle to receive support from social workers and these orphaned and abandoned children remain unregistered for many years.
Unmarried single fathers are also often unable to register their children’s births, as Home Affairs unlawfully denies them the right to apply for their children’s registration in the absence of the mother. Maternity wards will also not release maternity certificates to unmarried fathers, even in cases where the child’s mother has died or abandoned the family.
Without this document, the father cannot register the birth unless he obtains the assistance of a social worker or the children’s court. In rural areas, caregivers lack the financial resources to continue to travel to Home Affairs to finalise birth registrations which tend to take several visits before Home Affairs accepts the application due to the multiple supporting documents required.
Many of our clients have waited for more than two years for Home Affairs to process their applications for late birth registration, while others had to visit the offices on multiple occasions before being allowed to apply.
Others have been unable to apply, as they do not have all the required documentation, and the chances of securing documentation without assistance is slim. Even in cases where the proof of birth registration application was provided to SASSA, we have seen the grants being terminated after three months, forcing the caregiver to reapply all over again.
When these grants lapsed at the end of December 2020, many children were left in extremely vulnerable positions. In January 2021 it was announced that Home Affairs will suspend operations related to the registration of late births, which meant that most of the children receiving this grant would not be in a position to provide proof that they approached Home Affairs and ensure that their CSGs stay in payment.
The Children’s Institute, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, wrote to SASSA and the Minister of Social Development on 14 January 2021 calling for the urgent reinstatement of all the regulation 11(1) grants and the doing away of the three-month termination practice.
In response SASSA advised that they would reinstate the grants during the February pay run, ensure that the grants are backpaid to January 2021, and keep the grants in payment during the state of disaster.
hile this will provide temporary relief, the CI and LRC have requested SASSA to continue to support these children at least until the end of 2021 when the vaccination process will have lowered the number of infections and Home Affairs and SASSA service levels have improved.
The three-monthly termination of this grant during the Covid-19 pandemic places an additional burden on SASSA and Home Affairs offices. Further, children and their caregivers are unnecessarily exposed to the virus each time they undertake a visit to the offices to reinstate the grant.
Ultimately, the CI and LRC seek to have the three-month termination practice permanently removed. The burden of obtaining documents from Home Affairs falls disproportionately on the children and their parents and caregivers, who are unable to control Home Affair’s internal processes or lack of response from social workers. The system should rather place the burden on Home Affairs and Social Development to prioritise processing these children’s birth certificates.
The CI and LRC had requested a formal response from the Minister and SASSA by Friday 29 January, with respect to the permanent removal of the three-month termination practice. This response has not yet been received.
- This is an edited media release from the Legal Resource Centre.