Zimbabwean govt says 124 children, not 443, intercepted at Beitbridge border post
23 of these children had still not been reunited with their families.
Entrance to the Beitbridge Border Post in Limpopo, 4 April 2023. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare says it is concerned about information released by the Border Management Authority (BMA) on Saturday “alleging” that 443 unaccompanied Zimbabwean children below the age of 8 years were intercepted in South Africa on fears of child trafficking and were handed over to Zimbabwe authorities.
This is because the number of children on their side is not corresponding with the BMA numbers.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced on Saturday a successful sting operation at the Beitbridge Port of Entry stopped and searched 42 buses from Zimbabwe.
“During the search, 443 unaccompanied minors under the age [of] 8 were found in the buses, being trafficked into South Africa, with no consent of parents or guardians,” said Motsoaledi.
All persons in the 42 buses were refused entry into South Africa, and after engaging with the Zimbabwean Authorities, they were all taken back to Zimbabwe, including the children.
All the children who were saved were holding Zimbabwean passports, and thus they were handed over to the Zimbabwean Authorities for processing, said Motsoaledi.
“The hard work of the Border Management Authority is commendable, showing we’re pulling out all stops to prevent acts of crime and illegal entry into the country. Clearly the BMA is hard at work and is making inroads in effective border law enforcement”, Minister Motsoaledi said.
In the same night, 150 adult Zimbabwean nationals were also apprehended and stopped, he said.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms these acts of criminality especially where the interest of the child is at stake. It’s unacceptable that these minors were not with their parents or guardians throughout this ordeal. Protecting children, especially in this period of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, is paramount.”
Zimbabwe: Numbers don’t add up
However, the Zimbabwean Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare said the numbers were not adding up.
“The two border authorities on both the Zimbabwean and South African side have not received any official communication or confirmation on the alleged 443 children as reported in some publications,” it said.
“The Ministry would like to advise the nation that during the period 25 November to 3 December 2023, [it] received a total of 124 children (71 boys and 53 girls) who were intercepted and handed over to the department of immigration at Beitbridge border post.”
Upon identification, the children were moved to a place of safety at Beitbridge Reception Centre awaiting relatives/family tracing and reunification.
It said 101 children had since been reunited with their families, while the remaining 23 were placed at the reception centre.
The Ministry said it was working with the Zimbabwe Republic Police to find out perpetrators of the “heinous offence”.
South Africa’s Head of Public Diplomacy, Clayson Monyela, said the department of home affairs would issue a statement to clarify the misunderstanding.
“The SA numbers are correct. No crisis. The immigration teams from both sides will share updated information and notes to close the obvious gaps,” he said.