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Meeting report

TASK GROUP ON THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN

TASK GROUP ON THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN
15 February 2002
PLANNING FOR PUBLIC HEARINGS

Chairperson:
Mr E Saloojee (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Public Education Office of Parliament: Progress Report [see Appendix]

SUMMARY
The Progress Report of the Public Education Department of Parliament on the task group into the sexual abuse of children was discussed. Issues discussed included; the costs involved in advertising the public hearings, the composition and functions of the research team; and the proactive invitations to be sent to every Member of Parliament.

A number of issues need to be resolved, such as the proposal to cover the travelling costs to the public hearings of those citizens who cannot afford it. The possibility of receiving financial assistance from both local and international organisations. The format of the written submissions for the public hearings; and submissions by children, including the possibility of the staging a performance by the children.

The Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, pledged the support of the Department of Education for the initiatives of the task group and urged all Ministers, assisted by their Directors General, to create maximum awareness of these events in their constituencies.

MINUTES
The Chairperson drew the Committee's attention to the question raised by Ms Pregs Govender (ANC), on page two of the minutes of the meeting on 6 February 2002, regarding the specific questions to be submitted by government Departments. He informed Members that it is envisaged that here the Departmental representative would deliver their submission to this Committee directly. Furthermore, as far as the question regarding transportation on page three is concerned, this refers solely to those who have important and valuable input to contribute to the Task Group, but who cannot afford the cost of travelling to Cape Town.

Ms S Cupido (DP) stated that she had made the suggestion in the last meeting regarding the proactive invitation, yet the minutes state that Mr S Dithebe (ANC) had made this suggestion.

The Chair called for the minutes to be amended to reflect that both Ms Cupido and Mr Dithebe had made the suggestion.

The Chair then turned to the progress report, and informed Members that it had in fact been drawn up by Mr Albertus from the Public Education Department of Parliament. This Department has pledged both its support, as well as the portion of funds that have been allocated for advertising to the process. This is reflected under the heading "Advertisements & publicity" on page one of the progress report.

As mentioned on the first page of the progress report, the community newspapers have an important role to play in the process, as they are able to reach readers not covered by the commercial newspapers. As regards "radio" on page one of the progress report, it was recognised in the last meeting that advertising in newspapers alone would not reach a wide enough audience, and the decision was thus taken to use the radio format as well. These advertisements will then be placed as soon as possible despite the fact that funds are not currently available, in the hope that the costs will be covered at a later stage.

The Chair stated further that, as far as "research support" on page two of the progress report is concerned, research is presently being conducted on the issue of sexual abuse of children. In this regard the expertise of Mr Neil Anderson has been acquired. He is a recognised authority on the matter and, because of his standing within this field, has established a veritable network incorporating various child sexual abuse organisations, and he himself would contribute to the task group.

All Members of Parliament will, in terms of the "proactive invitations" mentioned on page two of the progress report, be issued with the full page advertisement, so that maximum exposure to this important issue is achieved.

Ms Cupido then suggested that the Members of Parliament be given ten copies each, because not all have access to photocopiers. This would be the "easiest and cheapest" way to reach the rural areas and less advantaged communities with no access to such facilities.

The Chair agreed and assured Members that this matter will be addressed immediately after this meeting. Furthermore, a "bundle of all the documents handed out" by this task group will be given to all the Members, so that this issue may receive the maximum exposure possible.

Dr O Baloyi (IFP) reminded the Committee that most Departments, especially at provincial level, have their own communications section, and this could be used to "spread the word".

The Chair thanked the Member for the useful suggestion.

Ms N Mnandi (ANC) inquired whether submissions written in the language of those (rural) communities in which these problems are rife, would be accepted by this task group.

The Chair replied that submissions in all languages would be accepted and they would help ensure they are translated to ensure maximum participation.

The Minister then committed the full support of the Department of Education to this initiative. He stated that it is a ministerial prerogative alone to dispense policy directives, not a prerogative of the Director General, and thus the Minister himself undertakes to ensure maximum awareness of the public hearings within his constituency. The same should be done by all other Ministers, with the assistance of their Directors General.

The Chair agreed with the Minister's sentiments.

Dr Baloyi then suggested that the Zulu radio stations have a "huge audience", and these also have specific time slots during which panel discussions are conducted. It would be invaluable for members of this task group to appear on this panel to increase public awareness of the hearings.

The Chair agreed with Dr Baloyi's proposal.

Ms A Van Wyk (UDM) supported Dr Baloyi's suggestion as this would increase awareness without the spending of funds. She also called on the South African media to play its role in this initiative.

The Chair agreed, and made a strong appeal to the media (there was one parliamentary journalist present) to facilitate the publication of the public hearings.

Mr C Morkel (NNP) informed Members that the free community newspapers focus primarily on their respective geographical communities. Thus, placing advertisements in these newspapers would significantly increase awareness. Furthermore, these newspapers would, largely, resolve the earlier concerns with language diversity. Secondly, the community radios can also reach those listeners that the mainstream public radio stations cannot. Access to remote and rural communities are vital here, and perhaps the National Forum for Community Radio Stations could be consulted in this regard.

The Chair added that the Public Education Department of Parliament has suggested that community radio stations have "tremendous coverage", and that it would be "worthwhile" spending its funds in this way. Furthermore, each Member will be directed to identify the appropriate community radio station/s in his/her area. This will allow this task group to be more proactive.

Mr Morkel then suggested that some of the organisations cannot cover those areas and audiences covered by public radio and commercial newspapers, and for this reason the Public Education Department of Parliament should be requested to place advertisements in the community media sector.

The Chair informed Mr Morkel that the Public Education Department of Parliament had in fact indicated that there are too many community radio stations to do this effectively. Indeed, these radio stations see advertising as their major source of revenue, and it would just be too expensive to place the advertisements with them because of the unacceptably high cost involved.

Ms Mnandi suggested that an alternative to this view would be the formulation and distribution of a pamphlet containing all the relevant information in this regard. This would be cheaper and easier to distribute, especially to the remote and rural areas. Secondly, all Members should bear the responsibility of finding people in their constituencies to write the formal submissions, because most members of the rural and less advantaged communities do not know how to do this. This matter has to be addressed urgently.

The Chair recognised the dilemma outlined by the Member, but reminded her that the decision was taken in the last meeting to not prescribe the specific manner in which these submissions are to be made. Instead, they must be allowed to come to this task group in the "most comfortable manner", and it would thus be Parliament's task to translate these in the "most simple way".

Ms Van Wyk then suggested that religious groups be involved to increase awareness and exposure to the initiative. Perhaps one Sunday could be set aside and dedicated as a day of awareness on the issue of the sexual abuse of children, maybe even have prayer sessions on it.

The Chair agreed with this suggestion and stated that the logistics would be investigated.

Ms Mnandi reminded Members that the minutes of the last meeting provide that the Chair must find funding, especially for the transportation or the poor or less advantaged, as mentioned earlier. The Chair is thus requested to provide a progress report to this task group on this matter.

The Chair informed the Member that he had personally been in close contact with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative, who has expressed a real interest in the initiative. Furthermore Mr Hilton Applebaum, son-in-law of the Liberty Life Chairman, also happens to head the Liberty Life social development programme and has responded favourably to contributing to the initiative. Appeals have also been made to the South African business community itself for assistance in this regard. During a three day seminar held last year with UNICEF, the South African government was mandated to encourage programmes such as this, and thus further communication with UNICEF would be vital to this initiative.

Ms L Mabe (ANC) referred to the issue regarding the provision of transportation to the public hearings. Does it refer to those citizens who do not have the means to commute or does it also refer to organisations as well? It is precisely those without the financial means to commute to Parliament that are directly affected by the sexual abuse of children. Furthermore, the organisations referred to will, more often than not, have the financial means to attend the public hearings, and not those who are most in need of solving this problem.

The Chair replied that there could be no doubt that the funds would be used for the citizens referred to by Ms Mabe, if they are also not associated with a formal organisation and if they have a real contribution to make. Furthermore, large amounts of money would be needed to help all such citizens, and this is not economically feasible.

Mr Morkel informed the Committee that the Department of Communications, Telkom and the SABC are now able to provide teleconference services. This means that interested groups could now gather at a predetermined venue, and can then make their respective submissions from a single or central location. This facility could be provided at a marginal cost.

The Chair stated that this option would be explored, but did not want Members to become too optimistic about it at this point.

Ms Mnandi then asked whether children would be allowed to make written submissions, or even tell the story themselves.

The Chair replied that this issue was discussed during the last meeting of this task group, and indeed in other projects like it. It was proposed that the issue raised by Ms Mnandi be submitted to UNICEF for consideration.

Mr Benjamin Francis, a popular South African actor, is actively involved in presenting projects for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. It would include children staging a play on issues such as the sexual abuse of children. He has written a letter to this task group encouraging such a play for this initiative. Members are encouraged to assist in facilitating these plays should they know persons involved in such activities. Furthermore, all the child welfare organisations will be contacted for assistance.

Ms Mnandi stated that the Select Committee on Social Development will be hosting such an event on Tuesday 19 February 2002, dealing with issues such as poverty and abuse. Children throughout the country will be performing.

The Chair agreed with the proposal and said it would be considered further.

Ms Mabe the stated that it would perhaps be more financially viable, in view of the funding restrictions faced by this task group, to organise the children into groups. In fact, a play was recently staged by schoolchildren without the participation of any adults, and succeeded in increasing awareness around these issues. It is suggested that a similar project be staged in the second phase of the year, perhaps. Yet the submissions and presentations of individual children should be prioritised, especially with regard to travelling costs.

The Chair thanked the member for the suggestion but reiterated the financial constraints that will meet such a project head on. It is suggested that further consideration on this matter be postponed till after talks with UNICEF on the possible funding of this task group. Members of this task group who know persons involved with such projects and/or the funding thereof are urged to follow-up on this matter.

Ms Mnandi suggested that the task group's researcher could be of significant assistance in this matter.

The Chair agreed, and took the opportunity to introduce two of the researchers to the members. He informed members further that there are eight researchers in total, four of whom would be attending the task group meetings and capturing the public hearings. Once these two processes have been completed, it is hoped that this task group would have enough material at its disposal to enable it to compile its first report. The remaining four researchers would be responsible for providing background research on child sexual abuse in South Africa, as well as the processing of the written submissions and the public hearings. Their findings will be made available to members on a regular basis.

Mr Morkel then expressed appreciation for the serious manner in which this problem is being addressed by the South African government. It cannot be doubted that the background research will provide the task group with important lessons to be learnt from past dispensations.

The Chair thanked Mr Morkel for his valuable suggestion, and suggested that their should be a wealth of experience to be learned from the findings of such research.

Ms Mnandi stated that the background research would allow this task group to create recommendations based on understandings of the work done on this subject in the past. This would allow the task group to submit "very comprehensive" recommendations to Parliament after the public hearings stage.

The Chair agreed fully with Ms Mnandi, and stated further that the making of recommendations to Parliament is the most important function of this task group, because sound and effective legislation is urgently needed on the problem with the sexual abuse of children in South Africa. As stated earlier, the background research would be vital in allowing the process to progress and build on the lessons learnt from past efforts. The ultimate aim is the instilling of programmes and policies to effectively regulate this problem.

The meeting was adjourned.

Appendix:
Progress report: Task Group on the Sexual Abuse of Children
Friday 15 February 2002

Advertisements & publicity

National newspapers:
Advertisements have gone out in weekend papers last week; they will be repeated this week. One is, however, aware of the limited readership of some of these newspapers - therefore, the Public Education Department in Parliament has been approached for some assistance. They have come up with the proposal that they publish a feature in the Independent papers nationwide - this would be published alongside a public participation feature, and the two parts would fill up one whole page. The cost of such an article would normally be around R200 000, but this one will cost only R100 000, and the funds would come out of the budget of the public education department. It has been suggested that the article appear in the week of the 25th of February 2002.

Community newspapers:
Arrangements have been made for the publication of articles and interviews in all the community newspapers controlled by the Independent group. The main thrust of the interviews and articles would be local content - for example cases of sexual abuse of children in the particular communities, but will be linked to the hearings in Parliament. This would be augmented by public interest announcements in the "what's happening" columns a few days before the commencement of the hearings.

Radio:
A meeting has been set up between the Public Education section and the SABC to flight infomercials on all 11 public radio stations - this will be costed, and the funds come out of the Task Group's budget. It is expected that the arrangements would be finalised toward the end of next week.

It would also be important for two or three members of the Task group to give interviews on radio and television on the importance of the process, and to send out the signal that MP's are serious about tackling the issue, and that input from the public makes an important contribution to addressing it. This will also assist in raising consciousness in a way that moves beyond the emotional rallying that we have seen over the past few months.

Proactive invitations

It has been suggested that all Members of Parliament be provided with a copy of the advertisement to take to their constituencies. This might enable us to attract the attention of smaller organisations and ensure that we have as broad a spread of organisations responding as possible. Organisations should be encouraged to send written submissions should they be unable to participate in the hearings. From the office of the Chairperson, direct contact has also been made with some of the crucial organisations in the area of children's rights and the protection of children to ask them to contribute to the process.

Research support

The support of both research teams in Parliament - the unit in Regis House as well as the ANC research unit has been requested. It has been made clear that researchers would be required to provide the Task Group with background information well in advance of the hearings. In addition, they have been asked to assist in the processing if written submissions as they arrive, and to be present at the hearings for the purpose of writing the Task Group's report.

Approval of dates of the hearings

The office of the Chairperson of Committees has approved the proposed dates for the hearings - 11, 12 & 13 March 2002. We will ensure that we have good venues.

Next meeting
Before the hearings / the hearings itself - in which case they would have to receive the programme for the hearings

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