Women in the public sector
The South African Human Rights Commission's Matlhodi Angelina Makwetla is advocating for children's rights
Children are among the most vulnerable in society, with their rights often violated by those closest to them and those who are meant to protect them.
In South Africa the rights of children are enshrined in the Constitution.They also have Matlhodi Angelina Makwetla in their corner, advocating for children's rights.
Makwetla has been trusted with the job of monitoring and influencing progress by all organs of state in the realisation of the constitutional rights of children.
She was appointed as a Commissioner for Human Rights in January 2017 and serves under the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
With a BA (Social Work) degree from the University of the North, a Management Certificate from Arthur D Little Management School in Cambridge in Massachusetts, an Empowerment Workshop Trainer certificate from the Empowerment Institute in New York, and an SMME Management Certificate from Galilee College in Israel, she is certainly qualified for the role.
And then add to that the various awards and recognition she has received, including Shoprite/ Checkers Woman of the Year
Award in the Media and Communications category, Visionary Leadership Award from the Soweto branch of the Black Women's Association and Top emerging SMME Empowerment Company from Impumelelo Top Empowerment Companies – a recognition endorsed by the Department of Trade and Industry.
“I describe myself as a social entrepreneur, dedicated to life-long learning and upliftment of disadvantaged community members,” she said.
Duties of a commissioner
Makwetla's office receives complaints that often highlight systemic challenges relating to access to basic services, race, disability, sexual orientation, education, culture, language, citizenship, social support and birth. Many of these complaints are about, or impact on, children.
Based on the complaints received, the right to education; the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse, corporal punishment or degradation; and the right to identity are the most violated children's rights.
These complaints are investigated by the SAHRC, who make recommendations to relevant departments.
In some instances, depending on the nature of the complaint, the commission can take matters to court.
It also plays the role of mediator between affected parties to help them reach a resolution.
Makwetla also said the majority of complaints are received from black South Africans.
She has also observed that young children between the ages of zero and two are most susceptible to maltreatment and abuse as they cannot speak out against the abuse, while children from around three years of age and above are more susceptible to having their right to education being violated.
Makwetla said to better the lives of children it is important for poverty reduction programmes to make a positive impact.
According to Commission's Poverty Traps and Social Exclusion among Children in South Africa report, children born into poor and socially excluded families are at high risk of being caught in a poverty trap.
They have little chance of getting a good education or receiving quality health care.The report shows that the socio-economic status of parents actually impacts on children's rights.
Service delivery protests and education
In recent years, there have been a number of incidents of schooling being affected as a result of service delivery protests with learners being barred from attending classes.
In 2015 the SAHRC conducted a national hearing on the impact of protest-related action on basic education.
It also convened a national investigative hearing in June 2016 after a number of schools in Vuwani in Limpopo were closed due to protest related action.
Government departments at national and provincial levels, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, school principals and community leaders had to appear before the commission to make submissions to the hearing.
The commission's probe found that the right to a basic education is adversely affected by protest-related action, and that inadequate measures were in place to effectively protect the right to access a basic education.
A number of remedial actions were recommended to government departments, calling for the promotion of a shift in understanding, so that schools are seen to belong to communities, and that education be given the priority and attention it deserves.
Eradicating racism, bullying in schools
Because elements of racism are still being experienced by learners at various schools across the country, government has encouraged learners, teachers and communities to speak out against racism and report cases to relevant authorities.
Schools have also been encouraged to implement social cohesion programmes to promote integration amongst learners of different races, ethnic groups and cultures.
Makwetla said the commission investigates complaints on an ad hoc basis and that it continues
“I describe myself as a social
entrepreneur, dedicated to lifelong learning and upliftment of disadvantaged community members.”
to engage with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to refine codes of conduct guidelines and audits of all school codes of conducts.
“The commission has also worked closely with the DBE on a project aimed at infusing principles of human rights, social cohesion and democracy into the school curriculum, while it also conducts advocacy initiatives at schools,” she explained.
From its 2006 public hearings on school-based violence, the commission found that bullying was a manifestation of schoolbased violence.
The commission then recommended that a rights-based life skills programme should be nationally implemented within the existing basic education curriculum that includes peace education, citizenship education, anti-bullying, human rights education, anger management, conflict resolution and mediation.
It also recommended that clear codes of conduct that reflect human rights principles be developed in schools.They should cover a full range of prohibited violent activities including bullying.
Raising awareness about children's rights
Makwetla believes that the majority of children and parents don't fully understand children's rights, and to some extent the violation of rights stems from this lack of understanding.
To address this, the commission has invested in promotional materials such as colouring books and pamphlets, detailing children's rights and responsibilities.
“The commission distributes these materials to communities and schools,” she said.
Makwetla said the commission embarked on a child awareness campaign to educate children and parents.
“The commission has also published promotional materials to educate children and the public on their human rights. We have also hosted seminars and conferences with stakeholders aimed at promoting children's rights,” said Makwetla.