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What is in this guide?
In South Africa, we have strengthened our commitment to caring for our children, as communities and as government. In the Presidency, the Office on the Rights of the Child co-ordinates children’s rights policy implementation in all three spheres of government. Our Children’s Act legislates various policies and programmes aimed at promoting and protecting the human rights of our children. At national and provincial levels, there are Child Rights Advisory Councils, championed by the President and the Premiers, to co-ordinate Children’s Rights strategy and implementation. These are Councils of experts in children’s education, safety, health and care.
The aim of this guide is to highlight the key points in the Children’s Act (2008) for parents, CBOs, NGOs and community activists.
In this guide we include:
- What does the new Children’s Act aim to do?
- How does the Children’s Act protect our children?
- What is child abuse?
- Who must report abuse?
- How are children protected against HIV, STDs and unplanned pregnancies?
- As parents, what are our responsibilities and rights?
- Who has parental responsibilities and rights?
- What about child-headed households?
- What about our cultural and religious practices?
- For further information about Children’s Rights issues
What does the new Children’s Act aim to do?
Our children have fundamental human rights such as dignity and freedom and security of the person. The aim of the Children’s Act is to:
- protect children and promote their rights
- put the best interests of children first
- allow children to take part in decisions which affect them
- preserve and strengthen families
- recognise the role of the community in the lives of children.
How does the Children’s Act protect our children?
A National Child Protection Register has been set up that contains:
- information about abuse or suspected abuse of children
- names of persons who are unsuitable to work with children, because they have committed abuse of children.
The Act makes provision for children who are in need of care and protection to be:
- taken to a place of safety
- taken to a child and youth care centre
- placed in foster care.
What is child abuse?
The Act defines child abuse as one of the following:
- physical abuse, such as beating
- sexual abuse, such as indecent assault
- psychological abuse, such as degrading treatment
- deliberate neglect, such as depriving children of adequate food and shelter.
Who must report abuse?
All people in positions of authority who suspect that child abuse may be taking place. For example:
- Police officers
- Doctors and Nurses
- Religious leaders
- Traditional leaders
- Social workers
Any person in the community who suspects that a child may be abused, should inform one of these people.
How are children protected against HIV, STDs and unplanned pregnancies?
Many children become sexually active at a young age and before they reach the legal age of consent. Given the high HIV&AIDS infection rate, children who have become sexually active should have access to counselling and condoms. Making contraceptives and HIV testing available to children is aimed at protecting them against unplanned pregnancies, HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases.
As parents, what are our responsibilities and rights?
Children must be provided with:
- a suitable place to live
- financial support
- protection from abuse, neglect and harm
- help with their upbringing.
Both parents must contribute to the maintenance of the child.
Who has parental responsibilities and rights?
The mother of the child automatically has parental responsibilities and rights. The father of the child has rights if:
- he was married to the mother of the child when the child was conceived or born
- he lived with the mother in a permanent partnership when the child was born
- he consents or applies to be identified as the father of the child , or if he pays customary law damages and he helps (or tries to help) with the upbringing and maintenance of the child.
The father has to pay towards the maintenance of a child even if none of the above apply.
What about child-headed households?
The HIV&AIDS pandemic and economic factors which force parents to work away from home, result in more and more children growing up in households without proper adult supervision. This may leave them vulnerable. The Children’s Act provides protection for these children. One way in which children in child-headed households can be protected is by placing them in foster care or in a cluster foster care scheme.
What about our cultural and religious practices?
Some cultures and religions have special practices that must be recognised and protected. Some practices may, however, leave the children vulnerable. Because of this, the Children’s Act gives us guidelines which will help protect our children. For example, children must consent to their own marriages, virginity testing may take place only if the girl is above 16 years and has consented, and circumcision is only allowed under certain circumstances.
For further information about Children’s Rights issues:
- the Office of the Premier, for information about the Provincial Child Rights Advisory Council ; or
- your nearest Department of Social Development District Office, to apply for assistance.
- look in the Blue pages of your local telephone directory, under Provincial Government, for these phone numbers.
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