Children's Rights: UNICEF presentation, Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation presentation, Committee Second Term Programme adoption

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

18 August 2009
Chairperson: Ms B Thompson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee received short presentations from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, both of whom outlined their main aims and objectives, and suggested a closer working relationship between themselves and Parliament. UNICEF also distributed an information pack to Members. Members asked UNICEF which provinces had been identified by UNICEF as possible partners, whether the information packs were available in other languages, what role Parliament could play in community development, what the international reporting obligations of UNICEF entailed, and noted that more support was needed in educating health staff. Members asked about UNICEF’s work on children with disabilities, questioned how up to date the information was, how budgets were managed and suggested that a summit should be held with non-government organisations to see whether their programmes were working and whether they adhered to relevant legislation. The need to communicate with local government and address the lack of prioritising of women and children at a local level was also raised. The role of scorecards in relation to municipalities was raised and explained. Members welcomed the offers of support and help from the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, and noted its focus on the rights of women, children, youth and people with disabilities, as well as the research on women and land issues. They requested that a working list of fully-functioning non government organisations be provided.

Members adopted the Minutes of the last meeting, and the Committee programme for the second term.

Meeting report

Children’s Rights: UNICEF presentation
Professor Rose September, representative from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), outlined the main concerns of that organisation with regard to children, and proposed a closer working relationship between itself and Parliament and UNICEF. She proposed formation of partnerships between UNICEF and the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces, provincial and local government. She emphasised the need to bridge the gap between strategic thinking on national levels and real issues relating to children, which happened at a community level. She explained that the folder prepared by UNICEF and distributed was essentially a “knowledge package” to assist Members, particularly in their oversight projects.

Ms D Robinson (DA) asked which provinces had been identified by UNICEF, and which had responded.

Prof September replied that UNICEF was supposed to run a national programme of action around children, but that this in turn depended on the provincial programmes of action. She explained that so far UNICEF was working with the Limpopo Province, the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Ms P Duncan (DA) asked whether the information packages handed out were available in any other languages.

Prof September replied that unfortunately no other languages were available at present.

Ms S Rwexana (COPE) asked what role Parliament and its Members could play in community development, particularly regarding their constituency offices in the communities.

Prof September explained that any requests put forward by Parliament, such as requests for seminars or engagement in public participation, would be answered. She reminded the Committee that UNICEF had a huge infrastructure in Pretoria, which increased the organisation’s capacity to support Parliament.

Ms H Malgas (ANC) asked about UNICEF’s international reporting obligations, and whether this information could be made available to Parliament. She also asked about the priorities of the organisation, in terms of their focus areas relating to women and children’s rights. She emphasised the fact that more support was necessary to encourage the further education of health staff, and nurses in particular, around child issues.

Prof September replied that she agreed with these concerns and understood the field of healthcare to be of great importance to the UNICEF project. She also said that UNICEF’s international obligations could be made available to Parliament.

Ms P Petersen Maduna (ANC) asked what UNICEF’s view was of children with disabilities.

Prof September replied that the organisation felt very strongly about promoting full rights and challenging any discrimination on the basis of disability.

Ms Duncan asked about the exact content of the information packages supplied to the Members. She asked whether the information was up to date and relevant, and whether it provided information about issues regarding children in forced labour, child-headed households, and child pornography, rather than a well worded document that ignored the difficult topics. She asked about the management of budgets within UNICEF and affiliated non-government organisations (NGOs). She noted that during 2008 a substantial sum was allocated to social development in South Africa, but despite the fact that about R610 million was given to about 800 NGOs in the Western Cape, there was no marked difference. She suggested that a summit should be held with NGOs to see whether their programmes were working and whether they adhered to relevant legislation. She asked whether UNICEF could assist in this regard.

Prof September explained that the reports were designed to gather feedback from government on how it was implementing the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Member States were given a choice as to which particular articles they wanted to respond to and report upon. These reports were then sent to an international United Nations Committee, which gave feedback to government according to international standards. Civil society organisations would give a shadow report on their own interpretation of how well Government was implementing the Declaration.

Ms Robinson supported Ms Duncan’s concerns about funding. Ensuring that NGOs were making good use of the funding allocated to them, through task teams and umbrella teams, rather than simply holding summits, was an important way in which UNICEF could assist Parliament. She also asked for contact information for effective communication with UNICEF.

Prof September replied that the issue of funding was always problematic. She suggested more meetings, which could result in the mobilisation of funds to assist Parliament. She expressed a positive opinion about NGOs, but agreed that the monitoring was important.

The Chairperson mentioned the need to communicate with local government and address the lack of prioritising of women and children at a local level. She asked whether UNICEF had a way of measuring how well countries were adhering to declarations of rights pertaining to children.

Ms Malgas referred to the information package, and asked for clarification about the role of scorecards in relation to municipalities.

Prof September agreed that the role of municipalities was seen as increasingly important. She suggested a joint meeting with Parliament and the Ministry to discuss the issue. She explained that UNICEF was interested in a development that Brazil had undertaken using scorecards to rate municipalities. A similar scoring system, to monitor municipalities in South Africa, would be useful. These scorecards, on a provincial and local level, would help to build a greater oversight framework.

Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) noted that she had experience as a parent and grandparent. She asked how the rights of children should be understood in regard to children who had everything.

Prof September replied that parenting was never easy and that there was a gap between the generations that grew up with the notion of rights, and those who did not.. She also emphasised that rights always came with specific responsibilities.

Heinrich Boll Stiftung Presentation
Ms Paula Assubuji, Political and Human Rights Programme Manager, and Ms Keren Ben Zeer, Democracy Programme Manager, Heinrich Boll Stiftug Foundation, outlined the main aims and function of their organisation. It was affiliated with the Green Party in Germany and operated in 60 countries world-wide. Its focus was on the rights of women, children, youth and people with disabilities. It aimed to raise a greater public awareness of political parties and governance structures. The Foundation proposed a stronger working relationship with Parliament to promote support and exchange between civil society, NGOs and government.
Ms Duncan suggested that the NGOs, instead of reporting annually, as they had in the past, should perhaps be required to report quarterly, which would keep them more up to date on issues.

Ms Robinson expressed her appreciation for the offer of help and support offered by the organisation.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) asked whether there was a working list of available of fully-functioning NGOs that could be contacted by Parliament for possible interaction. He explained that exact information about NGOs was not readily available to Parliament.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would be happy to consider further communication with the Heinrich Boll Stiftug Foundation. She expressed particular interest in the overlap of research about the issue of women and land ownership.

Adoption of Committee Minutes and Programme
The Minutes of the previous meeting were adopted by all Members without amendment. Some Members did, however, express their concern that they should receive the minutes and programme prior to attending the meeting.

The Committee programme for the second term was tabled and adopted without amendments. The fact that the Committee would not be conducting oversight visits in the term was verified.

The meeting was adjourned.

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