Call made for child pro­tec­tion watch­dog

Ur­gent plea on eve of Na­tional Chil­dren’s Day

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JA­NIS KIN­N­EAR

CHILD ad­vo­cacy groups have made an ur­gent plea for the gov­ern­ment to ap­point a child pro­tec­tion om­buds­man, to act as an in­de­pen­dent and au­ton­o­mous watch­dog hold­ing ac­count­able those who vi­o­late the rights of South Africa’s chil­dren.

The call came out of a round-ta­ble this week, ahead of Na­tional Chil­dren’s Day to­day, tra­di­tion­ally marked in South Africa on the first Satur­day of Novem­ber ev­ery year.

The round- ta­ble was ini­ti­ated by NGO Molo Son­gololo and other lo­cal chil­dren’s groups. Var­i­ous gov­ern­ment mem­bers were present, along with pupils, all push­ing for an om­buds­man, or child pro­tec­tor or com­mis­sioner.

Del­e­gates from Mau­ri­tius and Zam­bia, who are among 70 coun­tries that have al­ready es­tab­lished a child pro­tec­tor’s of­fice, pre­sented their work­ing mod­els and spoke of the pos­i­tive role the de­ci­sion had played in pro­tect­ing vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

Ini­tially, an ear­lier rec­om­men­da­tion in the Draft Chil­dren’s Bill of 2002 for an in­de­pen­dent body to pro­mote and mon­i­tor chil­dren’s well-be­ing, had been canned on the grounds of costs.

The pro­posal by the SA Law Com­mis­sion, sup­ported by child rights groups, failed to be in­cluded in the fi­nal draft of the bill.

Fur­ther at­tempts to have the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in­sti­tute a chil­dren’s com­mis­sioner also proved fruit­less. In­stead, a “Chil­dren’s Cham­pion” was ap­pointed in the Of­fice of the Pre­mier.

Molo Son­gololo di­rec­tor Patric Solomons said a num­ber of chil­dren’s NGOs had re­jected amend­ments to the 2010 ver­sion of the chil­dren’s bill last year, mak­ing sub­mis­sions which in­cluded a pe­ti­tion list­ing more than 2 000 chil­dren’s sig­na­tures. Claims were that the changes merely “wa­tered down” the gov­ern­ment’s obli­ga­tion to ap­point a chil­dren’s com­mis­sioner.

Solomons hoped the roundtable would bol­ster their ef­forts to have an om­buds­man ap­pointed. Their call is also sup­ported by Unicef South Africa.

“Chil­dren are very vul­ner­a­ble, and young peo­ple here have now them­selves said they are hav­ing a tough time, see­ing chil­dren be­ing raped, abused and bul­lied in their com­mu­ni­ties.”

He said the om­buds­man’s role would be to hold the gov­ern­ment ac­count­able, iden­tify chil­dren in need, raise aware­ness and find so­lu­tions to the scourge of child abuse and in­equal­i­ties.

The Nel­son Man­dela Chil­dren’s Fund’s Vuyani Ntan­jana said the cur­rent state sys­tems de­signed to com­bat child abuse were not suf­fi­ciently ef­fec­tive. The re­cent spate of crimes against chil­dren was “a sad story”, and proof that the gov-

HEAR US: Dr Rose Septem­ber from the Depart­ment of Women, Chil­dren and Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties with young peo­ple who ex­pressed their de­sire for an om­buds­man. ern­ment was fail­ing to curb the prob­lem, he said.

“As the chil­dren’s fund, we sup­port any ini­tia­tive to bring about the pro­gres­sive re­al­i­sa­tion of chil­dren’s rights to put chil­dren first,” he said, adding that South Africa was fast mov­ing to­wards a “state of norm­less­ness”, in which ex­pected so­ci­etal be­hav­iour had been eroded.

“If you hear of an adult man rap­ing a baby, you ask, can this re­ally be nor­mal be­hav­iour? Ab­so­lutely not,” Ntan­jana said.

Unicef rep­re­sen­ta­tive Aida Girma said that, in a bid to en­sure gov­ern­ments ac­cel­er­ated their obli­ga­tion to pri­ori­tise chil­dren’s rights, they pro­vided guid­ing prin­ci­ples to be ad­hered to when es­tab­lish­ing an om­buds­man.

She said the child pro­tec­tor had to be in­de­pen­dent, au­ton­o­mous, up­hold hu­man rights, be ac­ces­si­ble to all chil­dren, as well as take chil­dren’s views into con­sid­er­a­tion.

“The om­buds­man must have the chil­dren’s in­ter­est at heart.”

In 2003 Mau­ri­tius, with the help of Unicef, ap­pointed a child pro­tec­tion om­buds­man. Re­cently, its gov­ern­ment was forced by its fi­nance min­is­ter to en­sure a cer­tain pro­por­tion of the om­buds­man’s re­com- men­da­tions were im­ple­mented, said Mau­ri­tius rep­re­sen­ta­tive Is­mail Bawamia.

The child pro­tec­tor’s of­fice had al­ready man­aged to se­cure free school uni­forms, sta­tionery and hot meals for poorer schools.

“Th­ese are tan­gi­ble re­sults. We host work­shops, do stud­ies, but also have close re­la­tion­ships with chil­dren and their par­ents in the com­mu­nity,” he added.

At­lantis teen, 16- year- old Thomas As­ton, told the panel of his per­sonal en­counter with loved ones who had suf­fered abuse or been raped.

“Just on Tues­day I found out a friend of mine had been raped four years ago. We al­ways teased him for be­ing shy as he was very with­drawn… I never imag­ined he was a vic­tim of rape,” Thomas said.

He be­lieved it was a mat­ter of ur­gency for chil­dren’s NGOs and the gov­ern­ment to part­ner and ap­point an om­buds­man to pro­vide a plat­form for chil­dren to find help.

“Some kids are too shy or scared no­body will be­lieve them if they say they were raped or abused.

“At least if there’s an om­buds­man, they will be able to go there and ex­press them­selves freely,” he said.

The Grade 10 pupil also wor­ried that the escalating in­ci­dence of vi­o­la­tion of chil­dren meant those with the po­ten­tial to be­come fu­ture lead­ers could fall through the cracks, and get caught up in gang­ster­ism and drugs.

“South African lead­ers of tomorrow should not be abused be­cause we need them to up­lift us and take the coun­try for­ward,” he said.

ja­nis.kin­n­ear@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

PIC­TURE: MOTSHWARI MO­FO­KENG

KIDS FIRST: Patric Solomons.

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