With almost 1 000 children murdered in the last financial year and as many as 500 dying as a result of abuse and neglect, the status of children in the country is bleak, according to the Connect Network.
“The drafters of the Constitution of South Africa and the Bill of Rights prioritised the rights of children, placing their best interests ahead of any others when it comes to matters concerning children,” said Dee Moskoff, the executive director of the non-profit collaborative network of 96 Cape Town organisations.
But while South Africa has 213 000 registered NPOs, which focus on the needs of children, young people remain exposed to abuse and neglect. “By the age of five, almost 90% of a child’s brain will be developed, yet 63% of children in South Africa do not have access to early childhood development. Eighty percent of children in Grade 4 cannot read,” Moskoff pointed out.
“It is estimated that around 3 500 babies are abandoned every year in South Africa. About 3.5 million children are orphans. Yet, last year, only 1 033 were adopted.”
According to the Children’s Institute, as many as 500 children die annually of abuse and neglect, while crime statistics show that 985 children were murdered in 2017/2018.
Most of these murders took place in the Western Cape.
Moskoff also referred to the murder of Ashwin Jones of Uitsig, who was killed last week in a hail of bullets while keeping an eye on cars parked outside a local mosque.
He was only 12 years old.
The organisation is also lobbying for a complete overhaul of the Children’s Amendment Bill of 2019, which was submitted to Parliament in February.
According to the notice of intention, the bill sought to address “critical gaps and challenges in the underlying child care and protection system”.
It also responded to a High Court order relating to the foster care challenges and sought to provide for a comprehensive legislative system.
‘We don’t want a patched-up bill’
Debbie Wybrow, the founder of social and legal advocacy organisation, The Bayakhanya Foundation, countered that the bill does not go far enough to protect vulnerable children.
“Instead of entrenching children’s rights to be cared for within families, certain provisions denigrate those rights. Examples include sections relating to assessing the best interests of children, interim safe care, foster care, permanency planning and adoption,” she said.
Furthermore, children who were differently abled, displaced or “non-South African” have not been sufficiently provided for, Wybrow said.
“Abandonment is a growing concern, yet no provisions are made for parents in crisis to safely relinquish children. Most concerningly, the explanatory memorandum filed with the bill suggests that children should rather be institutionalised than grow up in the care of families who are not of the same colour or background.”
Wybrow maintained that the bill needed to be completely rewritten with the input of all stakeholders and those serving children, as well as the children themselves.
“We don’t want a patched-up bill. It needs to be taken off the table and completely reworked.”
Wybrow believed an “Afrocentric approach” was needed, focusing on what worked in other African countries and incorporating those strengths into legislation in South Africa.