As this week marks the annual commemoration of Child Protection Week, South Africa appears to have made great strides in improving the laws around the protection of children in the institutionalization of the Children’s Act, the Maintenance Act and the Child Justice Act.
Co-ordinator of the Legal Service Directorate at the Western Cape Department of Justice,
Advocate Owen Kleinhans, explained that Child Protection is annually commemorated from the May 31 until the June 7, with the aim of promoting the protection, well-being and safety of children, through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach.
Kleinhans said that since South Africa is part of a global community and in terms of its international obligations, it is party to certain treaties that govern and protect the rights of children.
“We are looking at certain aspects of the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of the International Child Abduction and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, as well as regional instruments, such as the African Charter on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child.”
With regards to domestic legislation, he said that the most important legislation in terms of the protection of the child is the Constitution, specifically Section 28, which deals with the rights of children.
South African Law that speaks to the protection of the Child
Despite improvements, various aspects of South African legislation, which speaks to the protection of children, appears to be inadequately known about or understood by many citizens.
In terms of the Children’s Act, legislation was adopted to help protect children and ensure that their rights are protected and provides every child with a voice in any matter that concerns their care and well-being, depending on the child’s age and maturity level. The Act further makes paramount the best interest of the child.
“In terms of the protection of children, the Children’s Act now makes provision for a national child protection register.”
The register consists of two parts, the first of which requires the documenting of all reports of abuse or deliberate neglect of a child and all convictions of all persons involved in abuse or deliberate neglect.
While the second part of the register requires the documenting of details of all persons who are deemed unsuitable to work with children.
“If such a person wants to work with children in the children sector, there is an obligation with the employer to follow up if that person is uploaded on the register,” Kleinhans explained.
He further noted that the Child Justice Act [75,2008], which is a fairly new piece of legislation, was preceded by cases in which children who broke the law were treated as adults in terms of criminal procedure law.
“We had a situation in South Africa where children were incarcerated with adults, which was clearly not in the best interest of the child.”
Kleinhans, therefore, encourages parents, guardians, and caregivers to use the legislation for the protection of children.