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29 May 2008

Child protection a step closer

Foreign children are entitled to full protection under the new Children’s Act, which after a decade in the making is due to be implemented in early 2009.

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27 May 2008, JOHANNESBURG - Foreign children are entitled to full protection under the new Children’s Act, which after a decade in the making is due to be implemented in early 2009.

Speaking at the opening of a three-day conference on the Children’s Act, timed to coincide with Child Protection Week, Minister Zola Skweyiya explained that the Children’s Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18 years, and “it does not add any additional requirements such as SA citizenship or that the child had to be born in SA”.

Speaking out against the spate of xenophobic attacks in the country, Skweyiya said that “setting alight the homes of foreigners has also set aflame our Constitution and taken a match to the Children’s Act. Children are once again bearing the brunt of such violence, losing parents and loved ones, as well as their homes and being forced to flee for their lives.”

Skweyiya admitted that, over the past decade “the conditions facing the children of South Africa have deteriorated, sometimes with added complications”. He however expressed the hope that the Children’s Act “will be properly implemented and we will achieve its intent of protecting the rights of our children. The protection of children’s rights lead to an improvement in the lives of other sections of the community and it is neither desirable nor possible to protect children’s rights in isolation from their families and communities.”

In acknowledging the invaluable role of civil society in the law-making process the Minister thanked civil society, such as non-governmental and faith-based organizations, for advancing and educating on children’s rights. “The fact that the Act is what it is today, is thanks to civil society. We would not have been here without your support to the department.”

The new Act stipulates principles relating to the care and protection of children; defines parental responsibilities and rights; provides for services to promote the preservation and strengthening of families and consolidates the laws relating to protection of children.

The conference is being attended by national and provincial government officials from a range of departments, and representatives from civil society organizations and development agencies like UNICEF. As the title suggests the conference is aimed at “Getting South Africa ready to implement the Children’s Act”. The Conference aims to do this by raising awareness and understanding of the new law, sharing information about best practice models and services to children, and discussing how to establish monitoring, evaluation and capacity-building mechanisms.

Implementation faces challenges Paula Proudlock of the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town, pointed out that three of the major challenges to the implementation of the Act relate to lack of budget and capacity to spend at a provincial level, a shortage of human resources and under funding of the many NPOs who deliver more than 60% of the services mandated under the Act.

“Our analysis of the 2008/9 budgets of the provincial departments of social development shows that there is a large gap between what is needed even at a minimum level and what the provincial departments are planning to provide.

The total amount allocated in the provincial social development budgets for the three sub-programmes most closely related to children’s social services covered in the Children’s Act in 2009/10 is R2,9 billion.” According to the Costing Report commissioned by government, an amount of at least R6 billion, is needed by the provincial departments of social development in the first year of implementing the Children’s Act.

Another implementation challenge is related to the critical human resources shortage experienced in the social services sector. Dr Loffell from Johannesburg Child Welfare explained that “that human resources capacity should be increased and developed for all service areas provided for in the Act. Non-profit organizations, who are providing the bulk of existing services, require realistic and dependable financing to sustain and increase their contribution. They are currently crippled by chronic financial instability, causing severe staffing shortages.”

Nokuku Sipuka from Umtata Children’s Resources Centre pointed out that government funding for child abuse prevention programmes needs to change from funding for social worker salaries only to full cost programme funding. With the scarcity of social workers in the country it is difficult to recruit and retain social workers, especially in rural areas. Full cost prevention programme funding would enable NPOs to use other categories of workers and to expand their services to reach more vulnerable children.

For further information please contact:
Paula Proudlock (Children’s Institute, UCT) – 083 412 4458
Nokuku Sipuka (Umtata Children’s Resources Centre) on 083 276 4339
Dr Ann Skelton (Children’s Litigation Project, UP) – 082 443 2702
Nonceba Meyiwa (Disabled Children’s Action Group) – 073 273 1126
Dr Maria Mabetoa (Chief Director of Children and Families, National Department of Social Development) – 082 809 0675
Paula Proudlock (Children’s Institute, UCT) – 083 412 4458
Dr Jackie Loffell (Johannesburg Child Welfare) – 082 454 0991
Dr Ann Skelton (Children’s Litigation Project, UP) – 082 443 2702
Nokuku Sipuka (Umtata Children’s Resources Centre) on 083 276 4339
Joan Van Niekerk (Childline) – 083 303 8322
Dr Maria Mabetoa (Chief Director of Children and Families, National Department of Social Development) – 082 809 0675
Lucy Jamieson (Children’s Institute, UCT) - 083 458 9075

 
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