JOHANNESBURG - South Africa on Monday will impose tough new entry rules for minors aimed at preventing child trafficking, which airlines and travel agents say could hurt the important tourism industry.
The government estimates 30,000 children are trafficked into South Africa annually, often for prostitution or labor. Opposition parties, human rights groups and tourism firms say the true figure is much lower.
The new rules from the Department of Home Affairs require minors traveling with both parents to have an unabridged birth certificate with full details of both parents, as well as a passport and visa.
If the child is traveling with only one parent, immigration authorities require the written consent of the other parent, even when the parents are divorced.
Those traveling with a minor who is not their biological child need a legal letter from both the parents or guardians authorizing the journey.
"The main aim is that we prevent child trafficking,'' said Minister in Presidency Jeff Radebe.
David Frost, chief executive of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, said the new rules would hurt the industry. Airlines would bear the cost of repatriating travelers without the correct documents, he said.
"What we are seeing here is akin to taking a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito,'' he told a briefing Friday.
Tourism has become South Africa's fastest-growing sector. Arrivals have been boosted in part by a weaker rand currency that has made South Africa a relatively cheap destination.
Otto de Vries, head of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents, disputed the government's figures on trafficking.
"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,'' he said.
The new regulations were postponed last year after firms warned they could harm tourism.
The sector says it contributes about 9 percent to GDP but took a knock this year following a wave of xenophobic unrest that led to cancellations of bookings.
A British Airways spokesman said the airline would enforce the rules beginning Monday. "Customers without correct documentation will be denied access boarding,'' he said.