Let’s learn and honour Children’s Act

[Image] “We have to work together to protect
children in distress, who suffer neglect,
abuse or exploitation,” says President
Jacob Zuma
(Image: Tagalog)

[Image] The ’Believe in Zero’ campaign, organised
by Unicef, calls on all South Africans to
unite behind the goal of zero violence
against children.
(Images: Unicef)

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  Social Development
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Cadine Pillay

President Jacob Zuma launched Child Protection Week, the annual awareness campaign that promotes the protection of children and their rights in Kimberly in the Northern Cape on Sunday 27 May.

A growing concern for the president is that there are children who live in extreme poverty and for whom life remains a struggle, even after 18 years of democracy.

“We have to work together to protect children in distress, who suffer neglect, abuse or exploitation,” said Zuma.

One way to succeed in protecting the country’s children is by learning and upholding the Children’s Act, an important part of our Constitution. Zuma urged all South Africans to make an effort to this effect.

Operating under the theme Working Together to Protect Children, this year’s campaign was adopted by the National Child Care and Protection Forum as it upholds the government’s commitment to child protection in partnership with civil society.

During Child Protection Week, South Africans are urged to wear a green ribbon in support of the campaign. The ribbon demonstrates commitment and support to protecting the rights of children.

Know the Children’s Act

The South African Constitution outlines a society that respects the equality and dignity of every person – children and adults alike.

The government has, in the past few years, worked to ensure that the Constitution, legislation and policies as well as international instruments – such as the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, the Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007, the Child Justice Act, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child – are in place to provide statutory protection towards providing a better life for children.

In a report on South Africa’s children last year, the minister for women, children and people with disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, said her department is committed to creating an environment to ensure the constitutional obligations, policies and legislative frameworks of all children’s rights.

About eight-million children receive nutritious meals daily from the government’s school feeding scheme to improve concentration and performance in school.

“We have noted with pride that our democracy has made significant progress over the past years in creating a better South Africa for children,” Xingwana said. “However, we also acknowledge that there are still many challenges that our children and their caregivers and communities face today.”

The Children’s Act came into effect in April 2010 and is administered by the Department of Social Development. It sets out principles relating to the care and protection of children and defines the related parental responsibilities and rights.

The objectives of the Children’s Act are to promote the preservation and strengthening of families; to give effect to certain constitutional rights of children; to give effect to the country’s obligations concerning the well-being of children; to make provision for structures, services and means for promoting and monitoring the sound physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional and social development of children; and to strengthen community structures which can assist in providing care and protection for children.

Speaking at the launch, Zuma said the government was doing its part to ensure the safety of children.

“Government is focusing on five priorities regarding children. Those are education, health, rural development, creating decent work and the fight against crime.”

Zuma also emphasised the need for a good family life, saying this could assist in dealing with the many social ills.

“We must invest in a better society in the way we raise children. We must promote the positive values of ubuntu and respect,” he said.

“Our children must know that they have to respect themselves, their parents, peers and every other member of society.”

Community involvement

The launch started with a visit to the home of the Pico family in Donkerhoek, Galeshewe. The eldest of the household’s three siblings, Kealeboga, is 23 years old and unemployed. The family lives on the social grant payouts she receives on behalf of her younger sisters since the deaths of their parents and grandparents some years ago.

“I thank the neighbours for helping these children. This challenge needs more efforts from all of us,” said Zuma, who expressed concern at their living conditions.

Social development minister Bathabile Dlamini, who accompanied the president, called on communities to assist child-headed households and promised that the government would continue to reach the poor though social grants.

More than 10-million children benefit from social grants in South Africa every month.

‘Believe in Zero’

In the run up to Child Protection Week, Unicef also launched a new campaign – Believe in Zero – which calls on all South Africans to unite behind the goal of zero violence against children.

The campaign highlights the role everyone has to play in the protection of children, not just the authorities.

“South Africa’s levels of violence against children are among the highest in the world,” said Unicef representative Aida Girma.

“Tens of thousands of children are victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation every year – and offenders often go unpunished.”

Statistics from the South African Police Service confirm there were more than 54 000 reported crimes against children between 2010 and 2011. However, crimes against children are largely underreported and the real figure could be much higher.

Sexual offences make up about half of that figure, while around 30% of victims are under the age of 10 years. Research has shown that in most abuse cases, the offenders are known to the children.

A Unicef report titled A Programme of Cooperation between government and Unicef for 2013 to 2017 highlights conditions under which many South African children are forced to live. The report shows that poor children are 17 times more likely to experience hunger and three times less likely to complete school than children from wealthier backgrounds.

“The government must increase its understanding of inequity and its causes, or lose the child rights battle,” Girma said.

World famous singer and Unicef ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka added her voice to Believe in Zero, saying “Child protection starts with every one of us, as individuals – no matter who we are and where we live.”

Believe in Zero is also accessible online, with a specially designed Facebook app that urges people to express their support, upload photos or videos, post messages and engage their networks on the goal of the campaign.

Among those people who share their views through the app, one passionate supporter will be given the chance to take a field trip with Unicef to see first-hand how the organisation works with partners – and children themselves – towards the fulfilment of child rights.

I Care

Non-profit organisation I Care is also one of the campaigns devoted to finding meaningful solutions to the challenge of street children in South Africa.  Each year over Child Protection Week, I Care joins forces with various organisations to create more awareness around the assistance available to children living on the streets.

In the past, I Care has teamed up with KwaZulu-Natal’s Ethekwini Municipality and several of its departments to clean up some of the streets in Durban, a programme that has yielded much success.