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The Portfolio Committee on Social Development has condemned the reported increase in cases of children being used as pawns during separation or divorce between their parents. The committee heard that from a number of fathers during public hearings on the Children’s Amendment Bill in KwaXimba, in eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality yesterday.

Many fathers told the committee  that they  have been subjected to this tendency which they said has impacted on their ability to care for their children. The committee has been in KwaZulu-Natal since last Saturday for the hearings on the Bill.

In welcoming the amendments with an overwhelming majority in eThekwini, the participants highlighted that the unwarranted exclusion of fathers from their children denies both fathers and children an opportunity to have healthy and close relationships. There was a great deal of hope that the amendments to Sections 21 and 22 of the Children’s Act will provide a solution to this challenge and entrench equal parental rights for both parents. Moreover, fathers who expressed views on the Bill underscored the importance of the direct involvement of both parents in the development of a child.

The participants also raised concern over the perceived unfair bias of the judiciary (family advocates) in the country against fathers. They proposed that there should be an urgent engagement between Parliament, the Department of Social Development, and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services to address this matter. Most importantly, they argued that focus should be on the interest of the child.

Meanwhile, participants were critical about the lack of minimum standards in teaching and learning within the Early Childhood Development (ECD) environment which they said disadvantages children in rural areas.  They called for uniformity in standards to ensure that all children have access to equal education and development. Another call was made for the establishment of a minimum entry level qualification for ECD practitioners and managers.

The lack of infrastructure development was also highlighted as a critical challenge affecting the effective functioning of ECDs. The participants also called on all spheres of government to make funds available for this purpose. The committee has concluded the KwaZulu-Natal leg of hearings and will from Thursday 25 November hold public hearings in Gauteng.