By Benny Mojela and Anga Anganda Bushwana
Cecile van Schalkwyk has worked as an attorney at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) Makhanda office for eight years. The LRC is a non-profit, public-interest law clinic that provides legal assistance to people who are unable to afford it specifically within the context of land and education. It focuses on high-impact rights litigation advocacy within those spheres of the law.
The LRC, together with the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Children’s Institute has designed a booklet, which has been endorsed by SASSA, on the rights of undocumented children to gain access to the child support grant.
The booklet was sparked by the finding that children were dying of malnutrition because their caregivers did not know they could apply for the child support grant if they did not have Identity Documents (ID) or birth certificates for their children.
The regulation that enables children without IDs or birth certificates to receive child support grants has existed since 2008, but there is very little info about it in the public sphere, and many SASSA officials don’t know it exists. Grocott’s Mail had a conversation with van Schalkwyk to gain an in-depth background on the publication.
In South Africa, to apply for a child support grant, you need to provide a birth certificate for the child and an identity document for the mother or caregiver who is applying. There are a large number of children who are undocumented, but that does not necessarily mean they are not South Africans – it just means their birth was not registered with the Department of Home Affairs. It’s very difficult for children who’ve been orphaned or who have been left with family members to get their births registered.
According to van Schalkwyk and the UCT Children’s Institute, an estimated 500 000 children are undocumented in South Africa. 80 % of those children are in fact South Africans and not foreign nationals. As a consequence of the lack of documentation, it is hard for these children to get a grant.
Prior to 2008, it was completely impossible for undocumented children to access the child support grant. In about 2006, the LRC represented a conglomerate of organizations called ‘the Access Movement’ who had found that “children were actually dying from hunger, especially in the Eastern Cape. The majority of those children were undocumented. There was a direct link between lack of documentation and the lack of access to food,” van Schalkwyk told Grocott’s Mail.
After mounting a legal challenge, the Social Assistance Act was eventually amended to add Regulation 13 (1). This regulation says if a caregiver does not have an identity document (ID), or the child does not have a birth certificate, SASSA must accept the application for a child support grant without an ID or birth certificate.
The booklet points out that people in this situation will be asked to fill in a SASSA affidavit, and provide some other form of identity, such as a baptismal certificate, Road to Health clinic card, school report, letter from a reputable person and others.
Van Schalkwyk says despite the regulation being promulgated in 2008, there was a very low uptake by people without IDs, who were not made aware that they could apply for child support grants. She says SASSA also had a practice, the three months cancellation policy where people would only be given the grant for three months, and then they would have to provide proof from Home Affairs that they had actually applied for a birth certificate for the child or an ID for themselves. But in reality, it was impossible for a lot of people to go to Home Affairs and apply because they didn’t have any documentation at all.
In 2022, the LRC had an engagement with SASSA and asked them to abandon the three months cancellation policy, which SASSA did. Van Schalkwyk says after SASSA abandoned the policy, the number of children receiving the grant increased significantly.
The UCT Children’s Institute and LRC decided to publish the new booklet, “Social Grants for Children Without Birth Certificates and Caregivers Without Identity Documents” when they realised that information about Regulation 13 (1) was not available in the public domain. It wasn’t even available on the internet or on SASSA’s website. The booklet is designed so that people have a resource to take with them when they go to apply for the child support grant at SASSA, in case they are turned back for not having the required documentation.
The booklet also clarifies that no SASSA security guard may turn away grant applicants just because they do not have ID.
The aim was “to upscale the regulation 13 idea”, van Schalkwyk told Grocott’s Mail. The booklet is available in English and isiXhosa. It will be available in print and digitally on the LRC social media pages. This is great news for South Africans who previously thought it was impossible to get a grant without documentation. There is a list of phone numbers at the back of the booklet that people can contact if they need assistance.
View the booklet here: https://bit.ly/41B43Gb