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Simon Dippenaar
Admitted Attorney of the High Court of South Africa.
B.Bus.Sci (UCT), LLB (UCT), PDLP (UCT)
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Travel Consent When Taking a Child Abroad

Taking a child abroad without permission is abduction

An acrimonious divorce can have a devastating effect on the family unit. This is especially true where issues relating to child custody have been the source of tension. There have been a number of cases where parents have taken their child abroad without the permission of the other parent, in an effort to claim full custody. This is considered child abduction in the eyes of the law and can lead to criminal proceedings against the abducting parent. Recent legislation seeks to address this desperate situation. 

Documents needed to take a child abroad

Travel regulations concerning children changed in 2014. The new legislation was designed to curb child abduction and crack down on trafficking. For children travelling in and out of South Africa with one or both parents, the requirements may seem overly bureaucratic. However, every year somewhere in the world an aggrieved parent takes their child abroad without permission, effectively fleeing and abducting the child. The parent left behind – usually the custodial parent – who may have only agreed to an overnight stay, is left distraught.

As easy as ABC?

Not quite. All children, whether they are with their parents/guardians or not, will need not only a valid passport, but also an unabridged birth certificate. An unabridged birth certificate usually lists the names of both the mother and father of the child, and can be obtained from the Department of Home Affairs. There are different requirements for travel consent according to whether the parents are married or divorced/legally separated. Rules also vary depending on whether the child is travelling with both parents or just with one.

Adoptive parents and legal guardians need additional documents to take a child abroad. In almost all cases other than the entire family unit travelling together, a parental consent affidavit (PCA) must be signed by the non-travelling parent. This gives travel consent and must be no more than four months old. Should the child be travelling with someone other than their parent/s, for example on a school trip, they will need signed affidavits from both parents confirming permission for the child to travel overseas.

Single parents or unmarried parents

In the case of a single parent with only one name on the unabridged birth certificate, there is no other legal parent. However, the other parent may be involved in the child’s life and want to have a say in taking the child abroad. For unmarried parents whose names both appear on the birth certificate, the rules for travel consent given above probably apply, i.e. a PCA is required for one parent to take the child abroad. However, the guidance from the Department of Home Affairs is far from clear on these points. SD Law & Associates Inc recommends you contact Home Affairs before travelling.

More information on taking a child abroad

Parent24 has put together a very good guide to travel documentation needed in almost all scenarios involving taking a child abroad. If you have questions about your specific circumstances, speak to Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za.

Further reading:

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