Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field of child care, rights and protection, said a Commissioner for Children in the province was long overdue, but expressed concerns about the provincial legislation governing this.
Provincial government released a bill for the appointment of a Commissioner for Children which details how the office of the Commissioner for Children would be set up, where the funding would come from, and the rights and responsibilities of that office.
NGO representatives met on Wednesday August 15 at the
St John’s Anglican church hall in Belgravia, to discuss their concerns and to draft their comments.
Among the concerns was the independence of the commissioner, as the bill states it will be housed at the Department of the Premier.
Tony Lawrence from the Child Protection Collaborative said children had the right to protection and safety.
“We believe that the bill, with the necessary revision, will serve children well. However, we maintain that political interference must be minimised,” he added.
Mr Lawrence explained that the collaborative was started last year, in response to all the child murders “that filled us with shock and horror”.
Speaking about the NGOs participation by commenting on the bill, Mr Lawrence said: “It is so incredible to see ordinary people engaging with policy and legislation, that can act as a preventative measure. It’s a hard struggle, but we are a core group willing to walk the long road. The community must understand we cannot tolerate the cruel way we treat our children.”
Patric Solomons from Molo Songololo said a Commissioner for Children was there to protect and promote the interests of children.
“The Human Rights Commission falls short on what it is supposed to be for children, and there is no institution in South Africa that monitors this for children. The idea of Commissioner for Children is not a new phenomenon, NGOs managed to convince politicians that this is important,” he said.
Mr Solomons added that when NGOs examined the bill, some of the things they looked at included the independence of the commissioner, whether the commissioner would have the power to hold government and institutions accountable, whether it was child-focused, if there was child participation, and whether it was accessible.
Joan Daries, the interim chairperson of the Child Protection Collaborative, said accessing the Premier’s Office could be intimidating and that it might not be a good place to house the commissioner.
“Accessing the premier’s office can take up to 30 minutes for security reasons. If it is intimidating for adults, imagine how much more for children,” said Ms Daries.
Mr Lawrence agreed, saying: “The physical location of the commissioner must be separate from the premier’s office. It must be child-friendly.”
Mokhoro Makara from the Justice Desk said: “As much as the judiciary is completely independent, it is located in the same building as the government department. Also, the structure is clear that the premier has no power to interfere.”
Ignatius France, also from the Justice Desk, said if children living on the Cape Flats were not able to access the commissioner, “then it would be pointless”.
“Often parents must decide if they will use the little money they have to buy food, or for transport to access services. The office must be easily accessible.”
Submissions to the bill closed yesterday, Tuesday August 21. Last year the Department of the Premier received 561 comments from institutions, individuals and the private sector.