Child Protection Week: Is Child Protection Everyone’s Business?

Wednesday, 28 May, 2008 - 10:14

26-30 May 2008 was Child Protection Week, a week in which we are reminded that protecting children is “everyone’s business”.

This week is Child Protection Week, a week in which those who work in the child protection field attempt once again to remind all South African citizens, government and civil society alike, that protecting children is “everyone’s business”. 

What does child protection week achieve? Has the effort and resources put into this week long event paid off? Those of us who work in the field, especially in civil society organisations, find ourselves pressurised into supporting this event, again with minimum support from those in government who drive the “campaign”.

As with the 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children campaign held from 25 November till 10 December each year, the cost/benefit of campaigns in the field of child protection requires urgent and rigorous evaluation.

Questions that we should ask include:

  • Do these campaigns contribute to a decrease in child abuse?
  • Do quality services exist to respond appropriately and adequately to all cases of reported child abuse that occur during “campaign season”? (This is an important question when victims of abuse are encouraged to come forward and disclose their experiences during campaigns).
  • Does existing legislation support quality services to children who do report?
  • Is the investment of human and monetary resources in campaigns worth the result?

A decrease in child abuse
Police figures on rape (inclusive of women and children) indicate a small decrease over the past two or three years.  Yet, what do these figures really reflect?

On 31May 2006, the Institute of Security Studies convened a meeting with the South African Police Services and organisations and structures with an interest in child protection where they announced the “decentralisation”of the Child Protection Units (CPUs). The decentralisation policy was decided after a “pilot project” (time space and location of which was unavailable to participants in the meeting). Despite compelling counter-arguments presented from the floor, those representing the SAPS were adamant that policy would be implemented. No consultation was held with the National Child Protection Committee – a structure in which the SAPS participated that represents national departments and civil society organisations with child protection responsibility, and which drafted the National Strategy on Child Protection (as yet not implemented but presently being costed).

Theoretically the decentralisation of the CPUs should have made child protection services more accessible to communities. However, in practice Childline and partners in child protection have experienced:

  • reports that children and parents have been turned away from police service stations when they have attempted to report abuse
  • untrained officers dealing with child protection reports, who have not responded appropriately to the specialised investigation needs of abuse children
  • the outcome of child abuse investigations being compromised.

Given this, we must question the reliability of statistics. Is the reduction in rape statistics a real reduction or does it reflect the SAPS inability to deal with the sexual abuse of children in an appropriate and responsive child protective manner?

Child friendly legislation

In 1997/8 the South African Law Reform Commission was tasked with proposing new legislation to ensure that domestic legislation affecting the lives and protection of children is in line with international treaties (such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child), and the South African Constitution. Three draft Bills were developed by the Law Reform Commission after a process of in-depth research, comparative analysis of other legislation around the world, and consultation with a broad spectrum of role players working in the field of children’s rights. The following draft bills were handed to their respective Ministries:

1. The Children’s Bill (Department of Social Development (DSD)
2. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development ( DJCD)
3. The Child Justice Bill (DJCD)

Despite the extensive research and consultation which included government functionaries all three Bills were extensively re-drafted.

The Children’s Bill process

The redrafted Children’s Bill prompted the formation of a coalition of concerned child rights and child protection organisations called the Children’s Bill Working Group – presently called the Children’s Act Working Group. The reworked Bill was seen to be so inadequate that the Children’s Bill Working Group lobbied extensively for the Bill not to be passed in its (then) existing form. Numerous provisions relating to child protection had been removed or “watered down” to the point that they would be ineffectual. In 2004 the Bill was split into two parts – one part (the Section 75 Bill) containing the provisions that had national importance and the second part (the Section 76 Bill) containing provisions that related to provincial and local government responsibilities. After extensive lobbying and advocacy from civil society organisations, numerous improvements to the Bills were made and the Section 75 Bill was passed in 2005 (The Children’s Act no 38 of 2005) and the Section 76 Bill was passed in November 2007 (The Children’s Amendment Act no 30 of 2007).

At this point only about 40 sections of the Children’s Act have been implemented. Regulations have still to be finalised. The provisions that relate to Child Protection are not yet implemented. Click here to read ‘A Guide to the Children’s Act no 38 of 2005’ by Paula Proudlock and Lucy Jamieson *Note: Butjwana, I am referring here to the attachment in the email that you sent me

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act no 32 of 2007 (SOA)

The SOA went through a similar process as the Children’s Acts. A long period of consultation, research and international comparison culminated in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill (SOB). After the Bill was handed from the SA Law Reform Commission to the DJCD, it was rewritten and public hearings were held in Cape Town in September 2003, at one working days notice, thus limiting the participation of civil society in the hearings.

For several years no progress was made on finalising the Bill, despite ongoing calls from civil society organisations dealing with the sexual abuse of adults and children. The Zuma trial presented an opportunity for intense lobbying and in May 2006, the Bill reappeared, once again having been extensively rewritten.

Civil society organisations’ calls for further public hearings on the Bill fell on deaf ears. Although organisations were allowed to make written submissions, the opportunity to speak to these in Parliamentary hearings was denied.

The result is sexual offences legislation that has done little to extend protections for either adult or child victims of sexual assault that is couched in terminology that even trained legal professionals have found challenging to interpret and plan implementation.

However there is some light on the horizon for child victims of sexual abuse. The judgment of Judge Bertelsman  has declared some provisions of the SOA that amend the Criminal Procedure Act unconstitutional. Whether his recommendations will be upheld by the Constitutional Court remains to be seen.

The Child Justice Bill

The latest version of the Bill reflects substantial rewriting using terminology and a format that makes the provisions difficult to follow. At the public hearings in February 2008, the Chairperson of the DJCD Parliamentary Portfolio Committee commented on the language used and requested that the legal drafters redraft the Bill in language that they (the Committee) and civil society could understand.

“Why such delays” one might ask, after more than a decade of child rights law reform processes. Why, when politicians express commitment to children’s rights is legislation that would protect them not prioritised? What are Parliament’s priorities?

The provision of child protection services

Apart from the slow process of law reform that has hampered the development of child centred child protection services, provision of services has also been hampered by ‘partnerships’ between government and civil society organisations that provide child protection services.

Financial support from government (to do government’s work) comes in the form of ‘subsidies’ and ‘financial awards’. Support is partial and does not reflect the entire cost of purchasing these services.

The DSD is quite unique in these financial arrangements. If the Department of Transport were to commission the building of a new and essential bridge it would be ludicrous to envisage their ‘subsidising’ a company to build a bridge to 65 percent of the cost leaving the company to fundraise the remaining amount. Yet this is exactly what happens within the context of DSD/NGO ‘partnerships’ in child protection.

To add to the inequality in the partnership, salary packages paid to DSD social work staff, in order to facilitate staff retention, have increased faster than ‘subsidies’ and ‘financial awards’ to civil society child protection organisations. This has caused a continuous migration of staff from civil society organisations to government services. This rapid turnover of staff contributes to poor service delivery. Child protection is a specialised field of social work service. Children in need of child protection services also need some continuity of relationship to facilitate healing.

Conclusion

There is certainly no conclusive evidence that campaigns like Child Protection Week contribute to a reduction of child abuse. Perhaps also they contribute to increased vulnerability of children. Childline’s experience has been that when children disclose abuse, and if that abuse is happening in their family or close neighbourhood, and there is not an effective child protection system response to that disclosure, some children are punished for disclosing – even by family members who are not the direct abuser. The disclosure is often retracted, the abuse continues and the child loses faith in the system and is unlikely to disclose again.

Child protection services are not supported by implemented legislation and policy or by the allocation of funding that would at least ensure that personnel in the child protection field are a well trained and that there is a stable workforce managing reasonable workloads.

The organisation or rather ‘dis-organisation’ of child protection services, appears to be haphazard, especially with regard to police services, who despite a commitment to the development of the National Child Protection Strategy, have decided unilaterally on a policy of decentralisation of CPU’ that does not appear to be in the best interests of abused children.

The partnership appears to be fundamentally flawed. How is it not when qualified voices from civil society are ignored and one side of the partnership is exploited with regard to the allocation of resources?

However, perhaps there is light on the horizon…

1. The Department of Social Development must be congratulated on their extensive process of consultation around the finalisation of the Children’s Act and the Children’s Amendment Act.

2. Judge Bertelsman lucid and child rights protective judgment has given many of us hope that children’s rights as victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system will be upheld.

3. One of the Child Protection week activities that Childline is attending and participating in is a workshop focusing on the implementation of the Children’s Act and the Children’s Amendment Act. Click here for more information.

4. A workshop with the Office on the Rights of the Children from 21- 23 May, and the inclusion of a number of child rights civil society organisations appears to reinforce the perception that government is taking child protection issues seriously.

Joan van Niekerk is the national coordinator of Childline South Africa

NGO Services

NGO Services

NGO Events