4 November 2004
Cape Town – Crammed in a small shack subdivided into four tiny rooms lives 16-year-old Jason, his HIV-positive mother and his two grandparents. His mother is too sick to work, so the small family is forced to survive on the pensions the grandparents receive.
“We have nothing,” says Jason. “No money, no clothes or even a house of our own … our life is too hard. No privacy and no freedom. We are slaves inside it.”
Jason is just one of 14 million South African children living in poverty, with abuse or neglect. According to the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (Idasa), 75% of these, or 11 million children, live in dire poverty.
The South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) was tasked in 1997 to develop a Children’s Bill that would be in line with the Constitution and bring together all legislation relating to children.
After six years of research, the SALRC handed the first section of the draft Bill to the Department of Social Development in January 2003. This was examined by various government departments and submitted to Parliament for public debate in August 2004.
However, once the government departments had picked through the Bill, it was a “shell” of the SALRC’s original document, says the programme manager of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, Paula Proudlock.
The parliamentary hearings were tense as welfare organisations and the government argued over key points that had been excluded from the original draft Bill.
“We want about 70 percent of what was cut out put back in”, says Proudlock.
Of special concern was the removal of an inter-sectoral National Policy Framework (NPF), which bound all government structures and departments in the welfare sector to a common vision.
“The single worst problem facing the children’s sector is that different departments work in boxes”, says Proudlock. “Children get stuck in the system.”
Abused children are currently shunted between the police, the courts, local government, social services and sometimes even the Health Department before their problem is addressed, she says.
The establishment of the National Policy Framework, according to Proudlock, would help make the process more efficient and less painful for the affected children, allowing for the proper care of abused children, from the reporting of an incident to its eventual conclusion.
Other points of contention were:
- The removal of provisions designed to address the situation of children in specifically difficult circumstances, including issues relating to malnourishment, street children, children with disabilities or chronic illnesses, child labour and prostitution.
- The lack of special provisions for refugee children and undocumented foreign children.
- The removal of the chapter on funding, grants, subsidies and budgetary provision by state bodies for vulnerable children. The chapter was meant to be taken up by the Social Assistance Bill.
The chief director of children, youth and family in the Department of Social Development, Maria Mabetoa, said the social development portfolio committee was taking into consideration the concerns raised in the public hearings.
She said efforts were under way to close the gap between the department and organisations on the ground.
Proudlock is optimistic that most of the excisions in the draft Bill will be replaced and revised.
“Although public hearings on the first part of the Bill have closed, with the Bill expected to be passed by parliament by the middle of 2005, parliamentarians are still open to receiving input from relevant organisations that set up meetings with the portfolio committee”, Mabetoa said.
The second part of the Bill is scheduled for debate in August 2005.