On 26 May 2014, the amendments to the Immigration Regulations came into effect requiring any person travelling with a child under the age of 18, to be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate. The requirement comes into force as from 1 June 2015.
This comes after a lengthy postponement, since 1 October 2014, which the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) granted in order to afford travellers an opportunity to obtain unabridged birth certificates for any minor children which intend to travel into or outside the Republic.
Once the new regulations are implemented, passengers travelling in and out of South Africa will need to ensure that they carry an unabridged birth certificate, together with any other travel documents required for children under the age of 18.
Unlike a typical birth certificate, an unabridged birth certificate bears the details of the parents of the minor child to which the certificate has been issued. Much of the concern surrounding the new regulation relates to the processing time required to issue an unabridged birth certificate, as this can take on average 6 to 8 weeks. An abridged birth certificate, on the other hand, is generally issued within a few days.
Passengers who travel from non-English speaking countries are further burdened by this requirement as they must ensure that the unabridged birth certificate is accompanied by a sworn translation of the certificate.
According to the DHA, the rationale underpinning the amendments is to combat the alarming rate of children being trafficked to and from South Africa.
In spite of their good intentions, the amendments have created widespread outcry and have gained little support from stakeholders, particularly in the tourism industry. Despite the negative reception towards the changes, recent media publications have quoted the Minister of Home Affairs, Melusi Gigaba, saying that "[w]hen people are finished complaining they must comply. There is no way we are changing it". The intention is clear: the amendments are here to stay.
It is important to note that the regulations do not affect:
(i) children travelling domestically and
(ii) South African children born from 3 March 2013 onwards, as the DHA began to issue Unabridged Birth Certificates for children whose births were registered from this date.
Travellers who are frequently accompanied by their minor children must familiarise themselves with these changes in order to save themselves from the trouble of being denied entry to or departure from the South Africa. Travellers must also consider and plan future trips in advanced so that they are not disadvantaged by the length of time it takes to issue an unabridged birth certificate.