The Children's Bill has over the past nine years been welcomed by many children's organisations for its proposed reform of the 1983 Child Care Act. At the same time, this new legislation aims to bring child care legislation in line with our obligation s to the Constitutional and International Law such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
In 2003, after a five year period of consultation with organisations representing the children's sector, the South African Law Reform Commission (SALC) tabled a draft bill aimed at enhancing the rights of vulnerable and poor children, addressing the increase in child abuse and neglect and providing better care for all children in South Africa.
The South African Council of Churches together with the Catholic Parliamentary Office expressed the churches' concerns and visions for enhanced Child Care legislation at a Working Group which represented numerous child sector organisations. The lead organisation of this
Working Group is the Children's Institute, well known for its promotion of children's rights during the apartheid era, notorious for the gross violations of children's rights.
Toward the end of 2003, however, Parliament was advised that the bill be split into two sections, namely: a section 75 bill which deals with national competencies related to children's rights and a section 76 bill which will deal with provincial competencies. Amongst its tasks, the Working Group assisted with clarifying the processes related to advocacy on the bill as well as coordinated the presentation of submissions to the public hearings which took place between 11 and 13 October this year.
Areas of concern
The SACC made an oral presentation before the Portfolio Committee on Social Development on Thursday, 12th August, which was duly performed by Ms. Thabisile Msezane, Senior Vice President of the SACC, Ms. Tiny Leshika, SACC Director for Women's and Children's Desk, and Rev. Keith Vermeulen, for the SACC Parliamentary Office.
The submission recognised that "children are everyone's business" and urged government and civil society to work together in order to provide comprehensive legislation that would provide for a culture conducive to the "well being, development and flourishing of children distinct from what we had witnessed under apartheid."
In pledging cooperation with the DSD for the urgent promotion of a Children's Care Act in line with the best interests of the child, the SACC called on Government to acknowledge the need for the following to be incorporated:
- A comprehensive Bill of Children's Rights which expanded more fully on Children's Rights such as those reflected in the 2002 draft of the bill;
- The implementation of an inter-sectoral mechanism or National Policy Framework whereby Children's Rights could find expression and responsibility across the board in the various State departments without limiting it to DSD;
- A plan for comprehensive social security for Children, as proposed by the Taylor Committee of Inquiry for comprehensive social security, including a universal income grant, in order to overcome the poverty trap that many vulnerable, poor and marginalised children are caught in.
- The recognition of adult mentors to be designated as responsible for child-headed households;
At the same time the SACC acknowledged the proposed incorporation in to the draft bill of the following:
- The prohibition of compulsory marriage or engagement of minors as well as any practice of female genital mutilation;
- The lowering of the age of majority from 21 to 18 as consistent with our Constitution;
- The inclusion of parental responsibility in working out a parental plan within a family of legally conflicting relationships, the development of skills promoting peace, harmony and conflict resolution; and
- The adoption of the Hague Convention on Inter Country Adoptions as a best practice in the interest of the child and the UN protocol to Prevent Trafficking in Persons as a means of prohibiting the trafficking of children.
The above points of submission, some of which are also echoed by at least another 36 organisations, are currently being considered and debated by the Portfolio Committee which also conducted a study tour of the provinces until 15th October. The Portfolio Committee may start deliberating on the bill during the current session, but it appears unlikely that the bill will be passed by the end of this year. The Section 76 portion of the bill, dealing with matters pertaining to provincial competencies, is likely to be tabled in mid 2005.
Where do we go from here? Our next step forward would be to consider what is best for the bill and for the estimated 19 million children of South Africa. A major concern has long appeared to be that the good intentions of the bill may have to be weighed against its eventual costs. The Children's Institute is therefore engaged in an exercise to cost the bill.
Churches, may, however, use the time between now and next year profitably by attempting to understand the weight of calls for a Bill of Rights, Comprehensive Social Security, The National Policy Framework or an Office of a Child Protector and to discuss the strategic priorities each occupies within the bill.
For further information and action
For a full discussion on the developments of the Children's Bill including the recent submissions to Parliament please consult the Children's Institute website.
For any further information please contact Ms. Elizabeth Myburgh, Programme Administrator,
Child Rights Programme, Children's Institute, University of Cape Town (Tel: 021_6895404; Fax 021_689 8330).
Please copy the results of any discussions and/or workshops you may hold to the SACC Parliamentary Office.
21 October 2004