A Free State farmer has come to the rescue of 110 children who cannot attend school because they do not have identity documents.
The farmer, Marieta Groenewald, founded the Lethotheng Community Centre in Clocolan, where the undocumented children are being educated.
Groenewald said she felt compelled to help.
Most of the children’s parents are South African or Lesotho nationals but many have been left in the care of grandmothers who have meagre means.
Phuleng Kopa, a South African, said her 10-year-old grandson Godfrey could not go to mainstream schools because the schools required he have a birth certificate.
His mother, who is from Lesotho, is thought to have abandoned Godfrey.
“Home Affairs said my son has to have a blood test to prove he is the father of the child and then they will give the child a birth certificate,” said Kopa.
Another grandmother, Gladys Ramodibedi, said her daughter, a Lesotho citizen, gave birth in the Free State but did not register her child at Home Affairs.
“I tried to put the child into a public school and explained what happened but I was told to get documents because they can’t accept the child without them. I can’t take the child to Lesotho because she doesn’t have any documents,” said Ramodibedi.
Liesel Müller, of the Statelessness Unit of Lawyers for Human Rights, said there were numerous cases of undocumented children unable to enter formal schooling.
“It is unconstitutional. The schools policy says no child may be refused admission and the constitution enshrines the right of every child to basic education.”
Despite this, children were being prevented from going to school.
“The Department of Home Affairs should assist children to get documentation with the help of the Department of Social Development. No abandoned child should be without a birth certificate,” Müller said.
Groenewald said the school teaches English, maths and life skills.
She said the volunteer-run centre had compiled a curriculum but, although pupils were tested, performance reports could not be issued. This meant the children would have to start from scratch if they entered the formal schooling system.
“The grandmothers are devastated because they want a future for their grandchildren,” said Groenewald.
Home Affairs said children born in South Africa could not obtain a birth certificate unless they could prove that at least one parent was South African.
In the case of abandoned children, Home Affairs worked with the Department of Social Development to find the parents.
“The proof and documentation we ask for is to safeguard the children and avoid child trafficking,” Home Affairs spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete said.
The Department of Basic Education said: “Undocumented children become a challenge and we urge parents to document them. We cannot continue allowing children to remain undocumented. In some cases they reach Grade 12 without any identification.”