Tourism Industries Question Child Trafficking Data, New SA Visa Rules

Tourism Industries Question Child Trafficking Data, New SA Visa Rules

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Tourism industry leaders are questioning the accuracy of child trafficking data used by the South African government to justify new visa rules.

As of June 1, travelers with children must produce birth certificates when entering and leaving the country. Some tourism-related stakeholders are predicting dire consequences for South African tourism. Others say it won’t have much effect.

Child trafficking is a problem all over Africa. The South African government estimates that 30,000 children are trafficked into South Africa annually, often to work as laborers or prostitutes, NewsHub reports.

Some tourism officials and some stakeholders disagree with that figure, along with opposition political parties and human rights groups, according to NewsHub. The report failed to identify which human rights groups dispute the 30,000 figure.

South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority said that 248 cases of human trafficking were reported between 2010 and March 2011, NewsHub reports.

The new South African visa laws require require children less than age 18 travelling to or from South Africa with both parents to have an unabridged birth certificate with full details of both the parents, as well as a passport and visa. However, if the child is accompanied by only one parent, it gets more complicated, according to TTGDigital.

If the child is travelling with only one parent, immigration authorities require written consent of the other parent, even when the parents are divorced, NewsHub reports.

“Unabridged” means the certificate has the full history of the child, including mother, father and grandparents.

David Frost is CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, which deals with inbound tourism. He said the impact of the new visa rules has already resulted in a 20-percent drop in bookings for June compared to 2014, according to IndependentOnline. Frost said the regulations are “lunacy.”

“This is the tip of a very large iceberg,” he said. “We are going to take big hits.”

Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern Africa Travel Agents, said, “what we are seeing here is akin to taking a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.”

John Parker is product manager for Premier Holidays Africa, and on the front line when it comes to travel bookings. “In our experience it’s not had that much impact in the last few weeks or months,” he told TTGDigital. “South Africa tends to be a destination that people are pre-booking far in advance so it gives them time to make the arrangements.”

Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency, told a World Economic Forum briefing Friday that the government had been inundated with calls and was considering reviewing the regulations, IOL reports.

“Despite the noble intentions of these immigration policies, they have had an unintended consequence which needs to be addressed,” he said.

The International Air Transport Association said it wants to be part of a solution that helps reduce child trafficking but the new visa rules could have unintended consequences that cause more harm than good, association CEO Tony Tyler said in a statement.

The association has 250 member airlines that make up around 84 percent of the global air traffic, DestinyMan reports.

“IATA is asking the South African government to act in the best interests of the country,” Tyler said in a statement, according to Traveler24.

Tyler’s recommendations? “Review, modify, and if necessary, rescind, the new measures if they do not have the desired effect and if they act as a handbrake on travel, tourism and economic growth, not just for South Africa — which is experiencing its weakest GDP performance in decades — but for the entire region.”

South African police records don’t show a single case of child trafficking in the past decade, according to DestinyMan.

The International Air Transport Association says while it supports the campaign to combat child trafficking, airports are not the only points of entry and exit to South Africa.

“If you are going to implement policy that is this unique in the world, you would have taken the time to find out exactly how serious the situation is,” DeVries said, according to traveler24.