After more than two decades of democracy and countless cases of domestic and sexual abuse of children, rights groups have welcomed a soon to be implemented bill on the establishment of body mandated to protect the rights of the child. Premier Helen Zille Children’s recently announced the finalization of a draft bill on the Children’s Commissioner, which will focus on issues related to the protection of the rights of children within the Western Cape. But, rights groups have called for the complete independence of the commissioner.
Director of the Cape Town based child rights group Molo Songololo, Patrick Solomon, explained that the establishment of the commission is a requirement of the Western Cape Constitution, but the province has failed to implement Chapter 9, Article 78 and 79.
The Western Cape Constitution states that the provincial government is mandated to protect and promote the interests of the child.
“The Commissioner must assist the Western Cape government in protecting and promoting the interests of children in the Western Cape, in particular as regards — (a) health services; (b) education; (c) welfare services; (d) recreation and amenities; and (e) sport.”
Solomon said that the Children’s Commissioner will improve the monitoring of and the improved accountability for children with the province.
The idea of a Children’s Commissioner forms part of international child rights monitoring requirement.
He further noted that Governments will be assisted by the Children’s Commissioner to identify gaps in their implementation of children’s rights.
“The United National Committee on the Rights of a Child and the African Union Committee on the Rights of the Child, these are global and regional committees set up by governments to assist governments to help with issues of accountability and the monitoring of how governments are doing to implement the rights of the child.
“Children will benefit directly, because they will be able to receive improved services, as well as enjoy their rights better, because many children in South Africa do not enjoy all their rights.”
With improved access to the guidelines on the rights of children, Non-government organisations and civil society will also benefit from the commission.
In keeping in line with international standards, Solomon asserted that the commission must be independent.
“The commissioner must have sufficient powers to investigate, deal with complaints and report annually.”
He says that as it stands, the South African Human Rights Commission is unable to facilitate the duties of a commissioner and deal solely with the rights of the child.
“The Commissioner for Children will be there to keep a full time eye on how government is doing to implement the rights of the child and I think that is benefit.
“Also, from the international research that Molo Songolo has done, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in setting up the Commissioner of Children that many countries have reported is the inability and the refusal of politician to set up a commissioner. Because the politicians feel that the commissioner will interfere in their work,” he stated.
Molo Songolo previously objected to an initial proposal the office of the commissioner be stationed within the office of the premier.
Establishment of and principles governing Commissioner for Children
Powers and duties
79. (1) The Commissioner has the power as regulated in provincial legislation to monitor, investigate, research, educate,
lobby, advise and report on, matters pertaining to children.
(2) The Commissioner —
(a) must report annually to the Provincial Parliament on the measures taken by the Western Cape government to
protect and promote the interests of children in the Western Cape; and
(b) may report to the Provincial Parliament at any other time.
Appointment and removal
80. The Commissioner is appointed and removed by the Premier on the recommendation by the Provincial Parliament.
Solomon argued that the proposal brought into question the independence of the commissioner within the province.
He said the group also questioned the input of the public and children participation in the bill.
The final draft of the bill is expected to be presented in May, 2018.