[Z]imbabwe ranks 169 out of 169 countries in the Human Development Index 2010. Unemployment in the country reaches a rate of 95% (2009) and the schooling system is collapsing. An estimated 3,000 Zimbabweans die each week due to AIDS. The death or unemployment of their parents means that at a very young age children assume the responsibility of breadwinners. They enter South Africa, mostly illegally and with no official documents to get a job, to reach previously migrated relatives or simply to attend school. Whatever the reason of their journey to South Africa, their illegal status exposes them to an array of extreme abuses, from exploitation on farms to physical assaults, sexual slavery, rape and illnesses.
One of the most popular routes to South Africa crosses the Limpopo River to reach the frontier city of Musina. The number of illegal child migrants in the region is difficult to establish, because children cross borders far from officially designated entry points to avoid detection. Save The Children dealt with 9,000 cases of unaccompanied children crossing the border to Musina just in 2009. A recent joint study by UNICEF and Save the Children reported that ninety two percent (92%) of the unaccompanied children interviewed in Musina live on the streets or in dangerous places such as taxi ranks and bushes.
Most of the children cross the border at night, sneaking through man-made holes in a never-ending electrified fence topped with rusted barbwire. The area is heavily populated by wild animals and attacks, including deadly ones,which have frequently been reported. Most of all, the children regularly face assaults by gumagumas, criminal border gangs who “guide” them across the border for money. Stories of robbery, beatings, kidnapping and rape are sadly becoming “business as usual”. Once in South Africa, the journey to Johannesburg is a new ordeal. Nonetheless, many children return to South Africa no matter how often they are deported back to Zimbabwe. Because an empty stomach and the denial of a decent future are an even worse perspective. (Joelle Caimi)
(Jean-Marc Caimi | Musina crossing, PRIVATE 53 – Hope, pages 60-63)