16 October 2014
The African Union (AU) has lauded South Africa for establishing its Sexual Offences Courts, the first of its kind in Africa.
“The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) – an expert committee of the AU has congratulated South Africa for leading in the establishment of Sexual Offences Courts .,’ said department of social development representative Lumka Oliphant.
South Africa opened its first Sexual Offences Court in August 2013 with specially trained officials and equipment to reduce the chance of secondary trauma for victims. The idea was introduced in South Africa in 1993 to combat high rates of sexual violence against women and children. By the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts countrywide.
The courts specifically identify cases that fall under sexual offences; offer a special room for victims to testify in; have a private waiting room for adult witnesses; and have a private waiting room for child witnesses and victim support services. The committee further applauded the country on its constitution and legislative provisions for children, which it said continue to provide guidance for the African continent.
Last Thursday, 9 October, the South African government presented its periodic report to the ACERWC in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The committee was conducting its periodic evaluation of the Country Reports on Rights and Welfare of the African Child in line with African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, to which South Africa is a signatory. Social development deputy minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu led the South African delegation and was supported by Nolufefe Dwabayo, South Africa’s deputy ambassador to Ethiopia, and other government officials from the departments of health, justice and constitutional development, basic education and the South African Police Services.
Continuing with the theme of child participation in policy formulation, the delegation also included three children: Khumoetsile Songwane (15), Shandre Smith (16) and George Marco Kinnear (18), a disabled pupil. The children presented a video to the committee highlighting their experiences of South Africa and held further discussions with the committee.
In her opening remarks, Bogopane-Zulu outlined progress made by the country since it ratified the African Charter in the year 2000. She also pointed out challenges that still remain in the implementing the Charter.
The committee pointed out that South Africa still needs to further harmonise child marriages and culture as it relates to children’s rights in line with international and regional treaties.
The committee also acknowledged the reduction of absolute poverty but expressed concerns regarding high-level violence against children and challenges related to crimes committed by children.
In the concluding statement, the committee acknowledged South Africa’s progress, noted its challenges and encouraged the country to implement the good policies.