All you need to know (now) about unabridged birth certificates

In October 2019, home affairs minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that the government has scrapped the ‘nightmare’ rule that all parents travelling to South Africa with a minor must produce said minor’s unabridged birth certificate upon arrival and departure.

After many years of back and forth between the Department of Tourism and the Department of Home Affairs, the rule is finally scheduled to be abolished. The unabridged birth certificate (UBC) regulation has cost the South African tourism industry millions of rand since it was introduced five years ago under former Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba.


Why was the rule introduced in the first place?

The controversial rule was initially set in motion in a bid to curb rising child trafficking statistics, which had become a massive problem in our country (and still is today).

Since announcing the abolishment of the rule, Motsoaledi has said on several occasions that the government still strives to stop child trafficking, but that it plans to do so in ways that will not negatively affect the travel industry. He also mentioned that these measures and changes are being made to foreigner’s travel requirements in line with President Ramaphosa’s #stimuluspackage and plan to encourage growth in the country.

“We were considering the issues of economic growth. When you look at a visa regime anywhere in the world, you basically look at three things: the sovereignty and security of your country, your developmental needs, and the stability of your country. You take these three formulas and then make a decision. Following the stimulus package discussion, we said ‘let’s not use this particular method’ to fight child trafficking. We are not saying that child trafficking doesn’t happen, but a decision was taken as tourism figures have fallen,” Motsoaledi commented.


How has it affected the South African travel industry?

Soaring crime rates are already a deterrent to some travellers considering a visit to South Africa. Throw in the added obstacle of needing to obtain your child’s unabridged birth certificate before you travel, which can take weeks, and there is a good chance that you are simply going to set your sights on another destination for a family holiday. This is precisely what has happened since 2014.

A few years ago, South African Airways (SAA) released statistics that stated that an average of 40 people a day were being turned away from traveling to South Africa as a direct result of confusion around UBC requirements. There is no doubt that this regulation alone, has cost the tourism industry millions.


What are the new rules?

Now that the ‘war’ between the Department of Tourism and the Department of Home Affairs has come to an end, what exactly do the new rules entail?

Firstly, while foreigners travelling to South Africa will no longer be required to produce their children’s unabridged birth certificates, these changes only apply to inbound travellers. In other words, outbound travellers will still need to provide parental consent if both parents are not present. In short:

  • When tourists come to South Africa with their kids and apply for a visa, there will no longer be a need for a birth certificate of any kind;
  • When resident South Africans leave the country to go on holiday with their kids, they will still need to provide consent from both parents in line with the Children’s Act.


When will the old rule be abolished?

According to industry experts, the old rule has already been done away with, and the new rules are now fully in place. However, at the time of publication of this article, October 16th, 2019 industry was still awaiting written confirmation that the regulation had been abolished and that the new regulation has been gazetted.

“We were told that unabridged birth certificate regulations will finally be abolished, and we’re delighted at the news. However, the minister needs to have written confirmation sent to the International Air Transport Association (Iata) in order for this to be effective,” says TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa.

The reality is that, according to feedback received from around the country, there is still considerable confusion surrounding the matter. Motsoaledi has, therefore, instructed that a communique be sent out to all stakeholders outlining and explaining the new rules in greater detail.

There is little doubt that once the rule has been officially abolished, and everyone is clear on what these new rules and regulations entail, the South African tourism industry will notice a surge in interest from enthusiastic tourists. While it will take a while to repair the damage done, there is plenty of hope that it is entirely possible.

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