The Portfolio Committee on Social Development has concluded a successful and informative public hearings on the Children’s Amendment Bill [B18 -2020] in Kimberley where there was a strong support for the Bill. The residents of the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality called for the enhancement and strengthening of laws to prevent access to alcohol by children.
The residents said the access of children to alcohol contributes to the increasing social disintegration. Highlighting their concerns over the sale of alcohol to children, they said the sale results in increasing abuse of alcohol and substances by children. They stressed the lack of adherence to the law that prohibits the sale of alcohol closer to schools. To address this problem, the residents called for the South African Police Service to enhance policing and monitoring of shebeens to ensure that children are protected.
The residents also highlighted non-alignment between the Children’s Act and the Schools Act. The Children’s Act classifies a minor as an individual below the age of 18 years while the Schools Act does not compel children beyond the age of 16 to attend school. This, according to participants, presented problems to social workers when they render services in schools.
The participants also called for the acceleration of foster care application process to ensure care and protection of children. They raised a concern over the current foster care application process which they said is protracted and exposes children to harmful environments that negatively impact on their growth and development. Moreover, they said, the impact of a lengthy and protracted process prevents foster parents from applying for the foster care grant from the South African Social Security Agency.
The participants also called for the Department of Social Development to deploy social workers who reside closer to the schools to address the challenge of the lack of transport. It was mentioned that currently, social workers are not able to speedily respond and attend to cases because they do not have access to transport.
Despite the overwhelming support for the Bill, there was also a strong view that the Bill does not adequately address the rights of the unmarried fathers who show good faith to support their children. Other participants raised a concern that the Bill does not address parental responsibilities of unmarried fathers. The country only has a law that compels fathers to pay child maintenance.
The participants argued that there is no law currently that compels unmarried fathers to fulfil their parental responsibilities as child care and protection is not limited to financial support, it includes other responsibilities. They added that children also need a sense of belonging particularly to their fathers.
Other participants told the committee that the Bill focuses more on the rights of children over the rights of parents. This, according to them, threatens the stability of families and results in their disintegration. They argued that there must be a fair balance between the rights of children and parents.
Furthermore, they pointed out that the Bill gives children the right to give consent on medical matters without the knowledge of their parents. The participants proposed that parents are liable for medical expenses for their children, based on that, they should be involved on the matter of consent on medical issues on behalf of their children.
At the end of the public hearings, the committee called for a collaborative effort between all the role-players in ensuring the protection of the rights of children. It called on the community to act with government authorities whenever it observes the infringement of children’s rights.