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Human Rights Commission to investigate arrest of teen girl because of her dark skin

Neelam Rahim |

3-minute read
29 February 2024 | 17:19 CAT

A 15-year-old girl was wrongly arrested by Hilbrow police in Johannesburg. Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

A 15-year-old girl was left traumatised after she was arrested by the police and locked up in a police holding cell after she failed to produce an ID to prove she was not an illegal foreigner. They accused her of not being a South African citizen because of her dark skin.

It is reported that the teenager from Hillbrow in Johannesburg was locked up until her father arrived with her birth certificate to prove she was a South African citizen. The teenager, whose identity is being withheld, narrated distressing encounters with female police officers who transported and detained her at the Hillbrow police station.

According to Sowetan LIVE, the teenager said, “I asked them to call my parents, but again they ignored me. They put us in the cells where we found other detainees.”

The girl said she used one of her fellow detainees’ cellphones to call her parents, whose phones went to voicemail. She eventually reached her sister, who alerted their father.

The South African Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the matter. Radio Islam International discussed the traumatic event with the Human Rights Gauteng Provincial Manager, Zamantungwa Mbeki.

“It is very concerning that under these circumstances we find a child who has to recall such a traumatic experience. The fact that she has told them that she was 15 did not deter them from this incident,” says Mbeki.

Section 41 of the Immigration Act requires any person approached on reasonable grounds by a police officer or immigration officer to identify as a citizen or a person lawfully present in the Republic.

The SA Human Rights Commission said in terms of the Immigration Act and Criminal Procedure Act, police can ask for documentation, but the commission was concerned about applying the law in this case.

Mbeki said instances of individuals being stopped to produce documentation are common, as the law allows. However, the enforcement of this provision is usually based on preconceived ideas, and the oversight procedure needs to be clarified. The detention of a 15-year-old, though lawful, should not be something we should be hearing about.

“Children should be protected as much as possible and their detention should be a last resort. In this case, the allegation is that the child wasn’t allowed to contact parents and other traumatic incidents, which children should not be witnessing,” Mbeki added.



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