Report Back and Finalisation of Plans for Hearings

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Meeting report

TASK GROUP ON THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN

TASK GROUP ON THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN
1 March 2002
REPORT-BACK AND FINALISATION OF PLANS FOR HEARINGS

Chairperson
: Mr E Saloojee (ANC)

Relevant Documents:
Public Education Department of Parliament Progress Report
[Appendix 1]

SUMMARY

The Chair read the Public Education Department of Parliament Progress Report, and a number of issues arose for discussion. There were concerns with the due date set for the submissions and the fact that the public may be confused with the cut-off date. The need for an ongoing process beyond the public hearings was emphasised. It was thought to be important to secure the attendance of the Ministers themselves at the public hearings. There was a proposal that children themselves should participate at the hearings.

MINUTES
The Chairperson drew the Committee's attention to the Public Education Department of Parliament Progress Report dated 1 March 2002 (the Report) being circulated to Members. However, matters need further clarification.

As far as "Radio" on the first page of the Report is concerned, the advertisements placed via this medium have raised the most responses from the public.

With regard to "Proactive invitations" on the same page of the Report, the Chair noted that Ms Shirley Mabuzela, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission (SAHRC),
has personally advertised the public hearings through the SAHRC, and this Committee will be informed of the results of this advertisement. Also, the Committee has received reports from research organisations dealing specifically with the issue of the sexual abuse of children, and a report on these findings will also be made available to Members at a later date.

In terms of "Venues for the Hearings" on page two of the Report, it has come to the Chair's attention that room E249 has been booked by the Finance Portfolio Committee for those three days, and alternate arrangements therefore need to be made. The Speaker of the National Assembly could be consulted here, as the public hearings are only a "once off" thing, and the Finance Portfolio Committee would surely allow this Committee to use that venue for just those three days.

With regard to "Distribution of submissions" on page two of the Report, a great number of telephone calls have been received requesting the opportunity to make submissions. There does not seem to be sufficient time for all these interested parties to punctually submit their inputs. The result is that several will not be making such submissions simply because there is insufficient time to properly draft and formulate a formal submission. Alternatively, these could still submit presentations, but will arrive at the Committee Secretary's desk beyond the due date. Nevertheless, more submissions are expected before the public hearings commence.

Mr S L Dithebe
(ANC) requested the Chair to repeat the statements made regarding the date on which the public hearings were scheduled, as this causes the public to misunderstand the cut-off date and the date on which the public hearings are to commence. It seems as though submissions that are received by this Committee beyond the stipulated cut-off date will be accepted.

The Chair replied that submissions from all are welcomed, but it will take time to consider them properly. So it is requested that tardy submissions not reach the Committee Secretary too long after the cut-off date. This does not mean that the time limit is too open-ended, so that parties may make submissions till the very eve of the public hearings. Members will be provided with a progress report in this matter.

The written submissions have been handed over to the researchers of this Task Group for the compilation of the final report to be tabled within three days after the completion of the public hearings. Mr C Redclif (NNP), sitting in for Mr Morkel, inquired whether those interested parties who will be making written submissions would also be allowed to make oral submissions to clarify their written submissions.

The Chair informed Mr Redclif that this would not be possible because, for the public hearings to be properly planned and to run smoothly, a cut-off date has to be fixed. The current position is that many more requests have been received than the time allotted for the hearings can accommodate, as each submission would have to be no longer than thirty minutes.

Mr Redclif asked whether interested parties would then be allowed a choice, namely, to make either written or oral submissions.

The Chair replied that this could not be allowed either. Some have informed this Committee that they would be making written submissions, and would send representatives to deliver an oral submission. Certain parties would therefore be making both oral and written submissions.

The concerns with the funding of this task group and indeed the public hearings have largely been resolved, and it is now believed that the involvement of a sufficient number of participants has been secured to make the public hearings meaningful.

Ms S K Mnumzana
(ANC) suggested that the Committee is on track to meeting its objectives, and commended the Chair on the efficient manner in which he is guiding events. It is unfortunate that the public is experiencing difficulty with the due date for submissions. She had even tried to expedite the process by faxing the details of the public hearings to her constituency. This is an important issue as most of the children in the rural constituencies, especially, are directly exposed to this problem. Many people have informed their constituency offices of their intention to attend the public hearings, even those who live very far away in the most rural areas. This committee will receive further feedback on this issue later.

The Chair said that there is no way that one event, such as the public hearings, can address such an important problem totally and allow maximum participation. Indeed, it has been agreed that the public hearings cannot be the end of the matter, as public hearings will also be organised and staged in the different provinces. All those members active in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in organising such events and composing the programme of the NCOP would be instrumental in that NCOP effort.

Mr Dithebe concurred with Ms Mnumzana that this task group has done well given that it is currently functioning with limited resources at its disposal. The NCOP public hearings are encouraged, and the staging of such hearings at national level are encouraged, in the spirit of a continuous campaign of "moral regeneration". It is the responsibility of the law of the land to take charge when its children are being abused, so that criminals are made aware that the law protects children.

The Chair stated further that the South African Law Commission (SALC) has, for the last two years, been working on a comprehensive Child Care Act that is supposed to be dealing with child abuse specifically. Furthermore, both the Justice and Constitutional Development and Safety and Security Portfolio Committees have an important role to play in this process. The public hearings will only dramatise the harsh reality of the situation facing far too many children in South Africa, but the important part of the process would then be for Parliament itself to make a huge effort to increase awareness on this issue. It is hoped that Cabinet Ministers would attend the public hearings, or at the very least send a representative to inform this task group of their programme for 2002 or any plans they may have or are currently devising to address the problem of sexual abuse of children.

Ms N M Tsheole (ANC) inquired as to the precise life span of this task group. This becomes more pertinent if there is any serious intention to pursue this process till the very end, or to then pass it over to the Public Education Department in Parliament, and still work with them on this matter.

Ms P Govender (ANC) contended that this task group is composed of Members from various other Committees, and the work done and progress made in this task group then has to filter down into those various Committees. This very issue was discussed by the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Life and Status of Women and two of its Members were attending the meeting in place of two dedicated members of this task group.

It had been agreed that there are sufficient resources to host one workshop per province to focus on the finding of the report of the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Life and Status of Women dealing with HIV/AIDS. It has become evident that the interests of women are materially affected here, as the Love Life study has shown that one in four men interviewed
firmly believed that the rape of a virgin cures AIDS. Therefore the role of other Committees in this process is vital.

The report also focuses on the role of men and boys in ending the violence committed against women, as there is a vicious continuum of violence which begins with infants, then progresses to children and culminates in the perpetration of acts of violence against (adult) women. In fact, in the week beginning 4 March 2002 male members of Parliament will be asked to launch a programme detailing the manner is which they would address
the issue of violence against women. They would then be requested to present their findings to the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Life and Status of Women, possibly in the form of a symposium. The vital aspect here is that men are targeted in this exercise, and request them to take the initiative to ensure other men respect the rights of women.

The Chair assured Ms Govender that this task group is firmly committed to the development of an overall approach that will successfully address the problem of sexual abuse of South African children, as it has been recognised that this problem cannot be resolved by this task group alone. What is needed here is a collaborative effort in which every relevant Committee pursues a very narrow approach to this problem, rather than each committee pursuing its own work. The latter approach would not assist the process in the final analysis.

Ms A Van Wyk (UDM) agreed with the Chair, but cautioned against any assumptions by Members that this issue is indeed on the agenda of other Committees. The other Committees on which she serves do not have this matter on its agenda, and this may very well be the case with several other members of this task group. Thus, this task group has to coordinate its work with that of the other relevant committees, so that this problem may be properly addressed in Parliament.

The Chair explained that people who do work in the area of sexula abuse of children will be addressing this task group during the public hearings. One such person is Mr Neil Anderson, who has worked in this field and has conducted research on this issue all over the world. Such active collaboration between government and civil society is vital. The responses already received regarding the public hearings clearly indicate that such a collaboration is on the cards, and this task group is thus presented with the perfect opportunity to promote and facilitate this.

Ms P N Mnandi (ANC) reminded Members that during the last meeting of this task group the Minister of Education, Dr K Asmal (ANC) stated that it would be vital that the Ministers themselves attend the public hearings and sending representatives would not suffice. The Minister creates policy and this task group should insist that these Ministers personally attend the public hearings.

The Chair appreciated this, as the current problem with the sexual abuse of South African children is a national crisis.

Ms S V Kalyan (ANC) suggested that, in its first meeting
, Members of this task group be more specific with regard to the type of questions they might want the various State Departments to answer, as it would be futile if they all just submitted progress reports.

The Chair noted this concern.

Mr Dithebe suggested that those state Departments that are very critical of the staging of the public hearings should be reduced to a written list.

The Chair assured Mr Dithebe that this task group would "do its best" to impress upon the Ministers the importance of their physical presence at the public hearings, so that they may present their plans to address the issue of the sexual abuse of children to this task group. This would allow Members to attain an overall idea of the commitments of the various state Departments. This problem needs to be addressed urgently.

Ms N V Cindi (ANC) inquired whether the Youth Commissions could also be invited to make presentations at the public hearings.

The Chair requested Mr Dithebe to respond to this question.

Mr Dithebe replied that such a fragmented approach should be steered clear of. The Minister himself should cover all the relevant aspects, and this would not be the appropriate forum for the Youth Commission to contribute. It is suggested that this would tempt this task group to bring everyone else on board, as all the other relevant institutions and bodies dealing with this issue would have to be invited to address this task group.

The Chair said that this is precisely the reason why Minister Pahad's assistance was requested here, so that he may best advise this task group on how to proceed in this matter. Members will be informed of the results of the discussions with Minister Pahad.

Ms Mnandi suggested that matters would not be duplicated if the Youth Commission were to be invited to address this task group, because the very aim here is to hear from them directly, and not from the Minister. They have to tell their story themselves, and their views and perceptions on the matter of the sexual abuse of children in South Africa. These are thus two separate issues. Furthermore, the report details the telephonic requests made to this task group regarding the public hearings, and clarity is requested on the manner in which these are handled, whether formal requests will only be accepted or whether written submissions are the preferred option.

The Chair informed the member that the telephonic requests were made by people from the deepest rural areas, who do not have access to facilities which members of Parliament take for granted. The concern now is that should the relevant government departments indeed come forward and address this task group on a broader discussion of their plans, the three days allocated for the public hearings will not be sufficient. It will have to be seriously considered whether the hearings may not be extended by just one more day, as it was not certain, at the outset, that governmental departments or the Ministers would attend these at all, let alone contribute. Should all the governmental players be allowed to make presentations, this would significantly cut into the time allocated for civil society. This matter therefore has to be considered further.

Ms Tsheole suggested that room should be made for members of the public to make submissions rather than the State Departments, as it is the former that are affected here.

The Chair said he would forward a carefully worded letter that puts huge emphasis on the role of government in this process, and detailing the issues that the Minister himself would have to address.

Ms Kalyan
inquired whether members of the press would be allowed to attend the public hearings. Secondly, would there be closed sessions when the children are addressing this task group and relating their experiences, as such disclosure could have definite consequences on the community.

The Chair stated that the NCOP had staged public hearings of its own but, unfortunately, the agenda of this task group could not be accommodated within those hearings. The aim then is to host the upcoming public hearings, which would then be followed by another round of public hearings. For the latter the input of people actively involved in staging such hearings, like Mr Benji Francis, referred to in the last session of this task group, should be acquired. The issue of the participation of children themselves has to be considered here.

Ms Van Wyk
contended that it is vital that the children participate in these public hearings, and this task group has to remain sensitive to their plight and situation. Furthermore, the press cannot be barred from attending the hearings, and the law specifically provides that they may not publish the identity of the child or any information that might lead to the identity of the child being revealed. Their presence is needed as Parliament has to convey the message to those who are directly affected that this important matter is being addressed.

The Chair agreed with Ms Van Wyk
and added that the public hearings must not be for the benefit of Parliament alone.

Ms Kalyan sought to clarify her earlier statement. She did not suggest that the press should be barred from the hearings.

Both the Chair and Ms Van Wyk assured Ms Kalyan that her intention was understood.

Mr Dithebe informed Members that during May 2001 the South African press had signed a charter protecting the rights of children, and this charter would govern the conduct of the press at the public hearings. The programme suggested by Ms Govender is welcomed, and if that programme coincides with the last day of the public hearings, a very profound statement would be made on the issue of the sexual abuse of children. Furthermore, the presence of the President or the Deputy President, or another important and central figure, should be ensured so that a clear message may be sent to both the public and the perpetrators of sexual crimes against children.

The Chair agreed with Mr Dithebe.

Ms Govender reiterated the concerns of Ms Van Wyk with regard to the agenda of other Committees, and stated that the whole of Parliament should be involved in this initiative. In this regard it is requested that the public hearings end at 12h00 on the last scheduled day so that the male members of Parliament can participate in the programme proposed by the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Life and Status of Women. This would ensure a positive step towards putting an end to the problem with gender-based violence in South Africa.

The Chair suggested that Members congregate on 4 March 2002 to further discuss the new ideas that have arisen during this meeting, and Members are requested to reflect on the practicality of these issues over the weekend. On Monday attempts will be made to secure an additional day for the public hearings.

Ms Tsheole contended that if Parliament wants to send a very strong message on this subject, it should be included in the recommendations that a separate day should be scheduled for the presentation and discussion of the results of the public hearings, as well as the implementation of the programme. This will be followed by the proposed address by the male Members of Parliament, so that the media can publicise these events as much as possible. If this address is only an hour long, as suggested by Ms Govender earlier, it would not have the desired impact.

Ms Govender informed Members that the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Life and Status of Women has already planned the address by the male Members of Parliament. It seems even more appropriate to host it at the proposed time in view of the fact that March 2002 has been declared the Month of the Woman, together with the fact that Parliament will be adjourning in the following week commencing 18 March. It is being suggested by the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Life and Status of Women, that the public hearings to be hosted by this task group could fit in with the address by male Members of Parliament, as this would contribute significantly to the whole awareness programme.

The Chair assured Members that this will be resolved when this task group meets before the staging of the public hearings.

The meeting was adjourned.

Appendix
Progress report: Task Group on the Sexual Abuse of Children
Friday 1 March 2002

1. Advertisements & publicity

National newspapers:
The nationwide feature prepared by the Public Education Department in Parliament will appear in the newspapers today; that Department has taken responsibility for the cost of the feature.

Community newspapers:
Arrangements have been made for the publication of articles and interviews in all the community newspapers controlled by the Independent group as well as the Caxton Group in the Witwatersrand area. These newspaper groups have been somewhat reluctant to allow too much space for this issue, as they rely very heavily on paid advertisements for their revenue.

Radio:
Infomercials have been aired on all 11 public radio stations - this seems to have been the most effective way of reaching people, as a significant portion of responses have been as a direct result of the radio advertisements. The cost of this campaign - estimated at around R300 000 - has also been absorbed by the Public Education Department.

2. Proactive invitations

All Members of Parliament have been provided with a copy of the advertisement to take to their constituencies. From the office of the Chairperson, further efforts have been made - some very successful - to reach the major role-players in the field of child protection, and through them, also a number of smaller but important organisations and individuals. We have also taken note of the efforts of a number of our members in encouraging organisations to participate in the hearings -as far afield as Limpopo Province.

As per agreement at the previous meeting, the Ministers of the relevant Departments have been invited to attend the hearings; to date, the office of the Minister of Education has confirmed the Minister's attendance.

3. Venues for the hearings

The Committee Secretary was able to secure the following venues for the three days of the hearings:
- E249;

- V119.
The Task Group had requested the Old Assembly Chamber because if its accessibility for members of the public, but this venue has been reserved for the use of the NCOP while the NCOP chamber is being refurbished. In view of the importance of the public hearings, and in view of the numbers of people expected to attend the hearings, the Task Group would need to request that Committees that had booked E249 for the other two days, cede the venue for the purposes of the hearings

4. Distribution of submissions

To date, a total number of 15 written submissions have been received at the Committee Section. These are being made available to members on an ongoing basis.

There have also been a greater number of requests to make oral submissions than the programme can accommodate; these have come from various provinces, and more are expected to reach the Committee Secretary by Monday 4 March. Organisations that cannot be accommodated as part of the programme will be asked to send the Task Group written submissions.

5. Requests for assistance with travel cost

To date, one organisation has written to request assistance with the travel costs for one of their members; however, a number of other organisations have done so telephonically. The Committee Secretary has submitted a request for funding to assist at least ten, but possibly more, individuals to travel to Cape Town. Members will be forwarded with the details of these participants as soon as a decision has been made on the exact number we can accommodate.

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