You might not have thought about your 2017 summer holidays yet, but many schools are already under way with planning their summer sports tours. The number of destinations for school summer sports tours is wide and varied, with South Africa being a popular destination for rugby, cricket and hockey tours.

In 2014 the South African government introduced new laws which were aimed at reducing child trafficking. These laws imposed certain new requirements on anyone travelling to South Africa with children. Whilst the effect of these laws may be seen by most parents as an annoying need to provide additional paperwork, they require the express consent of both parents for a child to travel in and out of South Africa. This can cause major difficulties in one parent and other family units where a child has lost contact with, or has never known, their other birth parent.

The South African immigration laws are absolute. Both parents named on a child’s birth certificate must consent to the child’s travel to South Africa. It may be possible to obtain an order from the court permitting a child to travel to South Africa if the other parent refuses to consent, but the bigger problems lie in the cases where the parent with care has to make contact with a long time absent other parent in order to seek their consent to the child’s trip to South Africa. Families can be complex units and sometimes a child is unaware of the fact that the person they call mum or dad is not actually their biological mother or father, but instead a step-parent. In these circumstances the parent with care is stuck between a rock and a hard place; either (i) having to find a fictitious reason to justify the withholding of their agreement to their child taking part in the school’s sport trip to South Africa or (ii) having to make contact with a former estranged partner, at best reopening old wounds and at the worst leaving both the parent with care and the child open to a course of harassment or new calls for them to see the child. Sadly, in these circumstances, the Courts are of little help as they will not make an order permitting a child to travel to South Africa without the knowledge of the other biological parent.

Any parent with care who has concerns about the need to obtain the consent of a former partner for a child’s travel to South Africa should take early legal advice, preferably before going to the cost of paying for flights.

Although there are not yet any available statistics on whether these new regulations have reduced the incidents of child trafficking in and out of South Africa, they are certainly having unintended consequences for some families whose child wants to travel to South Africa for bona fide reasons.