Child Protection Register: Departments of Justice & Social Development updates

Social Development

14 May 2012
Chairperson: Ms Y R Botha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Social Development (DSD) and Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) provided an update on the progress of compiling and populating the Child Protection Register. The context of the Registry was outlined. The Child Protection Register was divided into two parts, with Part A comprising records of abuse, circumstances surrounding the abuse and related information, whilst Part B contained a list of any people deemed unsuitable to work with children as a result of previous incidents. Abuse included physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Section 7 of the Children’s Act provided for noting of abuse, as well as violent crimes, and included information on those who, whilst not actually found guilty, were deemed unsuitable to work with children. If certain conditions were met, it was possible that a person’s name might be removed. It was noted that since 1 April 2010, there had been 19 830 reports of child abuse, 438 people had been declared unfit to work with children, 36 763 inquiries had been made as to whether details appeared on the Register, and of these, 11 986 were screened, whilst 1 716 organisations had also been screened. The DSD had a dedicated unit and coordinators in the provinces. Capacity building, training and public awareness were priority areas, and there was ongoing monitoring. There were problems in drawing a register of past offences.

The DOJ magistrate’s courts were able to act as Children’s Courts, and there were 161 permanent Children’s Court clerks. Legal Aid SA provided legal advice on child-related matters. Many dedicated services were available at court level, but these were limited by lack of funding. Booklets, including in braille, were being distributed, whilst a dedicated e-mail address existed for fielding reports of abuse. A Children’s Act Working Group met on a regular basis. DOJ faced similar challenges around human resources, and also mentioned lack of input from other departments. An integrated budget would be required, as well as a public awareness forum and improved reporting from courts. The possibility of merging the two registers would be investigated.

The Committee discussed the reasons behind the low results reflected in the CPR, the possibility of merging the two parts of the CPR, the inner workings of the appeal process for individuals on the register and the strategies of the Departments for raising public awareness. Other topics raised were the breakdown of statistics by province and disciplinary forums, and the need for integration of all stakeholders, especially courts, in streamlining the initiative. Members asked how many instances of abuse occurred at primary schools, and expressed concern that often these were not dealt with beyond the teacher being asked for an apology. Members were surprised by how few names were on the list, and asked if sporting and cultural groups were investigated. Further questions were asked about the training, particularly in regard to Court Clerks, and on the progress of infrastructure of Children’s Courts.

Meeting report

Child Protection Register: Department of Social Development briefing
Mr Vusi Madonsela, Director-General, Department of Social Development, noted that what he would present represented a joint effort between the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ), towards the common goal of protecting children against various forms of abuse. He first wished to focus on child protection as a whole, so as to provide the context for the registry, and then to discuss the national Child Protection Register (CPR) in more detail.

Ms Margot Davids, Chief Director: Children, DSD, noted that the two departments had been asked to brief the Committee on the successes, outcomes and challenges in implementing the register initiative. She emphasised the importance of protecting South African children, in light of the Constitutional values, particularly section 28, but noted that despite best efforts, there were still instances of children not being treated correctly. Other relevant legislation included the Children’s Act, Child Justice Act, and Domestic Violence Act, whilst there were also governance structures such as the updated National Plan of Action for Children.

She noted that the Child Protection Register (CPR or Register) was divided into two parts; Part A comprised records of abuse, circumstances surrounding the abuse and related information, whilst Part B was a list of any people deemed unsuitable to work with children as a result of previous incidents. The register extends beyond instances of physical abuse to include emotional abuse and neglect. The purpose behind the Register was to collect information on past occurrences, so as to monitor cases and share information with stakeholders. She tabled a list of stakeholders who had a role in the maintenance and implementation of the CPR (see attached presentation).

Ms Davids noted that section 7 of the Children’s Act provided for the noting in the Register of culprits of abuse against children, which included those who had committed murder and other violent crimes. It also included information on those not found guilty but who have been declared unfit to work with children. This information was vetted before being included, and may be appealed. Removal of a person’s name from the Register was allowed upon an application, if certain conditions were met.

Since the enactment of legislation on 1 April 2010, there had been a strengthening of efforts, as noted by the results. There were 19 830 reports of child abuse received, and 438 people had been declared unfit to work with children. 36 763 inquiries had been made as to whether details appeared on the Register, and of these, 11 986 were screened. 1 716 organisations had also been screened.

Ms Davis noted that the DSD had dedicated significant human and financial resources to the CPR. There was a dedicated CPR unit at the national Department, and dedicated CPR coordinators on a provincial level. Capacity building and training had also been increased. Public awareness had been targeted as a sensitive area and there was ongoing progress on this. Visits were made to provinces to ensure accountability and to monitor functioning, and the DSD met on a bi-monthly basis to discuss progress.

One of the biggest challenges was the difficulty associated with accumulating a register of past offences, and the current focus was on current convictions and awareness. More resources were needed. Staff  turnover had impacted on the implementation of the Register, particularly since more staff had to be trained.

Ms Davis detailed the role of the DOJ. Magistrate’s courts were able to act as Children’s Courts, and there were 161 permanent Children’s Court clerks. Legal Aid SA provided legal advice to indigent people, including advice on child-related matters. Many dedicated services were available at court level and even more would be made available if the funding could increase. The statistics presented showed an encouraging trend, as DOJ continued to develop the programme through training of personnel.

A “FAQ” booklet and a Braille booklet providing information pertaining to the Children’s Act were being distributed nationally. A dedicated email address was created for fielding reports of abuse and had received 165 emails since inception. A webpage was available and had received 14 359 visits to date. The manual Children’s Court Data collection tool had also been adapted to accommodate monitoring of submission of reports. The Departments had also established a Children’s Act Working Group, consisting of various role-players who met on a regular basis to discuss progress with implementation.  After the inclusion of the new forms (25 and 28) in the data tool, submissions had gone up 15% since December 2011.

The challenges to the Department of Justice include limited human resources and lack of input from various other departments in aiding implementation. It noted that it would in future be attending to ongoing training, strengthening of technical support and increasing capacity of CPR units, including permanent staff. An integrated budget would be required, as well as a public awareness forum and improved reporting from courts.

In conclusion, the Departments stated that they intended to conduct research to determine the impacts of the two registers. The possibility of merging the Child Register and Sexual Offences Registers, under Chapter 6 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, must also be investigated. Monitoring of the names included on the registers would also need more attention.

Discussion
Ms J Masilo (ANC) requested from the presenters a breakdown of the names entered into Part B of the register, by province. She requested how many instances of abuse were against those at Primary School level and how many from above that level. She also asked if there had been any appeals and, if so, what the results had been.

Ms T Kenye (ANC) referred to Page 17 of the presentation and asked what the result of a successful appeal would be, and if the person would thereafter be deemed suitable to work with children. She then raised the issue of possible coordination of the registers and also requested clarity on the distribution strategy for the educational pamphlets being distributed.

Mr M Waters (DA) requested clarity regarding Part A of the register, and asked specifically if the Eastern Cape had been fully integrated into the programme. He also wanted to know why only 19 830 names were on the list, noting that the list had been existence for some time and there must surely be more incidents than this. In comparison, Part B had even fewer names, with only 438. Mr Waters expressed his dismay at how low this figure was and asked why it had taken this long to secure adequate funding and staffing. He asked what steps had been taken to approach courts and encourage changes in favour of capturing child molesters’ information. He also asked if sporting and cultural groups such as the Boy Scouts were being incorporated into the register.

Mr Walter also enquired if the booklets being distributed were the only forms of awareness raising or if forums were being addressed directly. He supported the merging of the registers, in light of how little success Part B had shown.

Mr Waters too queried the appeal system, proposing that inclusion on the register as a result of a ruling in court should not be accompanied by a right to appeal. He thought the requirements for removal following rehabilitation had not been sufficiently clarified.

The Chairperson stated that there should not be confusion between alleged and convicted perpetrators, and asked for statistics relating to conviction rates for sexual offences. She also asked for definitions of “unsuitability” and “rehabilitation.” She asked the presenters to indicate how many appeals had been heard and how many allowed. She made the point that surely only a court of law could be empowered to include a name on the register. She finished by asking if the Department of Justice had checks and balances or ran audits to check that no information regarding sexual offences fell through the cracks.

Mr Madonsela began by discussing the right to appeal as a Constitutional entitlement. If a name was placed on Part B of the Register, after a finding has been made that a person was unsuitable to work with children, then they should be allowed a right of appeal. This did not mean it would succeed, but it must be allowed. He reminded Members that the Register included one list of people found guilty of sexual offences, and another list of people found to be unsuitable to work with children. Generally, a court of law could not, on its own accord, make a finding that a convicted criminal was unsuitable, unless an enquiry had been made to that effect and evidence was placed before the court. He suspected that prosecutors tended to focus on the key crime, rather than taking the extra step relating to unsuitability. The secondary enquiry required a full assessment of the offender, rather than the extent of trauma visited on the child. An assessment of the accused’s state of mind must be based on whether or not children would be safe around that person. The fact that only 438 people had been found unsuitable and their names placed in this part of the register did not mean that the rest were necessarily suitable. Extra steps must be taken to make this secondary enquiry in the future. The DSD could follow up, but it would be far more cost effective if the state included the secondary enquiry in ordinary prosecutions.

Ms Nonkululeko Sindane, Director-General, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, pointed out that one of the documents required to include or remove a name from the register was a psychiatrist’s report. There must be an objective assessment, and an appeal could not be heard simply on the request of the applicant. The applicant must also set out the steps he or she had taken for rehabilitation. This must be very specific. Furthermore, a document was required from South African Police Services (SAPS) that the person’s name was in the CR report and on the register. Adequate evidence was required before removal.

Ms Sindane admitted that the number of names on the Register was shamefully low and that was why efforts must be redoubled, but she also added that the reason why so few appeared was the secondary enquiry explained by Mr Madonsela. Any steps taken by departments were highly theoretical unless they were supported by legislation.

Ms Sindane said that the DOJ was trying to ensure that perpetrators names’ did not fall through the cracks, the Department was meeting with the judiciary more frequently, so as to encourage secondary enquiries. The reason for the discrepancy between sexual offenders and child offenders was simply that not all offences involved children. Part of the purpose of the research was to expose these flaws and find ways to integrate registers so as to improve their clarity.

She said that, in relation to staffing and other resources, there were some necessary interventions such as capacitating of existing personnel, upgrading skills, and streamlining procedures to cut down on the labour intensity of child protection.

Ms Davids added input on the questions. She noted that the conviction statistics were available, with a breakdown by province and also by forum. The Eastern Cape’s involvement in Part A of the Register had not been ideal, but the DSD included these figures in the national results. She agreed that the figures were very low, and had encouraged improvements in provincial reporting, which had resulted in slight increases. Training and awareness had been emphasised, to improve reporting rates. The costing report was complete and the human resources required for support of the Register had been presented to National Treasury, in an attempt to secure funds. This had been partially complied with in the form of bursaries for social workers and other developments, but it was an ongoing process and allocations must be made piece-meal each year.

Attempts had been made to acquire historical figures of offences, but a budget must be put together, and this was a highly labour-intensive process. The Departments of Sports and Recreation, and of Arts and Culture had not been included in collection of data, but this would be rectified. The main sources of data were professional bodies, including the South African Council of Educators, and Trade Unions. Outreach to rural areas and farms had been done through the provinces, but it was not as effective as it should be, particularly for farms. It was part of the rural development strategy but was still sub-standard and would hopefully be improved.

Mr Madonsela picked up on an earlier point, adding that Part B of the register would include names of people who had not necessarily been found guilty in a court of law, but about whom a finding of unsuitability had been made. If they were also found guilty by a court, details of these convictions would be included. The Department had received considerable questions from Parliament about confirming certain names on the list, but information would only be given following a court order.

Ms Sindane added that, due to the retrospectivity of the legislation on the Register, the DOJ had gone as far back as possible through Department of Correctional Services and SAPS and had been able to garner a number of names, but these names must be verified. SAPS was doing this. Approximately 39 384 were being checked, not all of which would automatically go on to the Register. One of the limitations to rural outreach was the relationship with the farming community, and security limitations. Court infrastructure must be used to promote awareness. A TV programme was also being run for those who had access to TV, but those without would require different forms of outreach, using regional and local offices.

The Chairperson observed that as all MPs have constituency offices ideally located for distribution of awareness material, they should be used, and he hoped that the regional heads of CPR units should approach them.

Mr Waters asked for clarification on the distinction between names of unsuitable people and convicted people. Only the figure of those unsuitable to work with children had been given, not the figure of those convicted of offences. He asked if convicted persons’ names should not automatically appear on the Register, to make it simpler. The secondary enquiries burdened the courts unnecessarily, and maybe the legislation needed to be amended.

Ms Masilo noted that the majority of offenders came from schools, but when the incidents were followed up, the school principal tended to say that the teacher had apologised, and the matter would end there. She asked what was done to prevent this.

Ms Kenye drew the Committee’s attention to pages 29 and 30 of the report, expressing concern over the levels of training. She asked how training was done and which clerks were considered permanently employed. She also noted that there was not even one clerk for each Children’s Court, and asked how they were distributed between the provinces.

The Chairperson also looked at these statistics, requesting information on progress in infrastructure related to the CPR.

Ms Sindane responded that court clerks were relatively junior officials and most of them probably only had matric qualifications. Their training was ongoing, and consistent with their level of prior education. Some only required formal training or refresher courses, but others must be trained from scratch. Permanency was a matter of time and evaluation. All the clerks began as temporary employees and many ended up being fully integrated into the programme.

The infrastructure was naturally quite expensive, and could only be developed progressively. The Department had to look at international standards and fit this into the budget as best they could. Many of the rooms were designed in a different way to usual court facilities. The current infrastructure was highly relevant to the purposes of the child testifying, so the lack of quantity must be seen in relation to the quality of the infrastructure. There was, nevertheless, a plan to increase the number of facilities.

Ms Sindane said that the numbers given in the report were current, but she could provide a breakdown over the past few years. CCTV courtrooms were not only driven by DOJ, but also by Department of Correctional Services. The one-way- mirror court rooms were one of the slowest moving projects, because of high cost and low availability.

Mr Puseletso Loselo, Chief Director: Legal Services, DSD, stated that the legislation only provided for automatic inclusion in the Register following a guilty conviction for certain violent crimes against children. Other crimes or infringements required a secondary enquiry before inclusion.

Mr Waters asked, in relation to the 438 names, if they had been included through the automatic process.

Ms Sindane agreed that automatic inclusion should be introduced.

Mr Madonsela clarified that at the moment, some offences warranted automatic inclusion, but others required that a secondary enquiry be held. He noted that this was set out in section 120(4) of the Child Protection Act. However, there was a slight discrepancy between that subsection and the subsequent subsection.

The Chairperson asked the members present to discuss the finer points of this question after the meeting. She stated that the Committee would like to visit Children’s Courts to review statistics presented on Page 30. She also emphasised the need for continuing engagement on the issues and encouraged the use of constituency offices.

The meeting was adjourned.

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