Child Justice Act implementation: Inter-sectoral Committee, Young in Prison, Child Justice Alliance inputs

NCOP Security and Justice

22 October 2013
Chairperson: Mr T Mofokeng (Free State ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee heard a briefing from the Inter-sectoral Committee, Young In Prison and the Child Justice Alliance on the implementation of the Child Justice Act. The Inter-sectoral Committee (ISC) comprised provincial Child Justice Forums who met on a monthly basis, and it was intended to build capacity, public education and establishment of One Stop Child Justice Centres. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development explained that in terms of section 50 of this Act, a magistrate could halt proceedings in a child-matter and ask that the child be brought before the Children’s Court if it appeared that the child was in need of care and protection, and that Legal Aid South Africa had to provide children with legal representation. In general, it was intended that as many matters as possible be diverted away from the criminal justice system, and a number of service providers were accredited to provide diversion programmes. However, there were limitations in the number of government buildings suitable for conversion into One Stop Child Justice Centres, as well as serious shortages of psychologists and psychiatrists to determine the child’s criminal capacity. The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities said that the establishment of this department had improved the coordination and monitoring mechanisms for children, the signature of international and regional conventions ensured more focus on child rights. Restorative justice was more responsive to the needs of children, but challenges mainstreaming of the social protection measures for poor children in all government programmes, a need to improve individual and joint programmes, and the need to bring the Children’s Act and Child Justice Act implementation more closely in line, and strengthen the courts. Special measures were needed for children with disabilities and reporting requirements had to be re-thought.

Child Justice Alliance also outlined some challenges and emphasised that successful implementation of the Act would depend on close cooperation between the departments and an assurance that every department would carry out its own mandate. Training of personnel at the South African Police Service (SAPS), Legal Aid, prosecutors, probation officers, magistrates and Correctional Services professionals was crucial, but there were concerns that only 225 of the SAPS members had been trained on the Act, and there was no specialist unit to deal with child offenders. It was uncertain whether children were actually getting access to the right services in the Act, and it recommended that a proper study was needed on the effect of diversion, as well as prescribing standard procedures. The funding model for the NGOs who were actually providing the services had to be improved, especially for rural communities, and there was need to hasten and make more transparent the transfer of the previous reform schools and schools of industry and One Stop Child Justice Centres had to be increased. Young in Prison, another NGO providing youth services, focused on interventions that would make young offenders change their behaviour, including settling their emotional conflicts and promoting self-awareness. Poor information systems management meant that data was not updated, nor necessarily correct, and it was believed that the Department of Social Development might not be taking its responsibilities seriously enough, and there was not enough information on the training, nor on what was happening in the ISC.

Members indicated that they had serious concerns about the reports and the issues that they raised. One Member was very concerned that SAPS, when presenting to the Committee previously, had not reported on the implementation from its part, and it was clear that the various role players were not communicating, were compiling differing reports, and that no consideration had, for instance, been given to using the school buildings standing idle and converting them to Child Justice Centres. South Africa was trying to achieve the same as other developed nations, but had not got the foundations right, and failed to follow through on matters such as sustainable funding for NGOs. There were concerns that departments were spending too much time and effort on overseas matters without focusing on issues on the ground in South Africa. Another Member commented that the Ministry was not present when political intervention and answers were needed, wondered why municipalities were not planning and felt that there were other challenges that were not mentioned. Members questioned whether children on diversion programmes were being properly educated, were horrified at the reports that at some of the Bosasa centres physical punishment was still used, asked who had trained Bosasa in the centres, and how much money was budgeted. The Chairperson asked that answers be provided in writing.

 

Meeting report

Child Justice Act implementation
Inter-sectoral committee briefing, by Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

Ms Charmain Badenhorst, Director: Child Justice and Family, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, described the key role players in the intersectoral committee (ISC) for the implementation of the Child Justice Act (the Act) and said that the ISC was comprised of provincial Child Justice Forums who met on a monthly basis. The priorities of the ISC were to build capacity, public education and establishment of One Stop Child Justice Centres. In terms of the Section 50 of the Act, a magistrate may stop any proceedings against a child, and order that the child be brought before the Children’s Court, if it appeared that the child was in need of care and protection or if the child was alleged to have committed a minor offence. This provision was aimed at ensuring a child’s basic needs for food and warmth. Legal Aid South Africa was tasked with providing legal defence for a child accused of a crime.

A diversion system was established for children in the Act, which meant that the matters should be diverted away from the criminal justice system. An increase in the number of diversions was an important step in achieving one of the goals of the Act. A number of service providers were accredited to provide diversion programmes. The diversion services coincided with the drop in numbers of children held in remand detention centres, under the Department of Correctional Services, from 356 in 2010/11 to 98 in 2012/13. Public education initiatives included a radio broadcast campaign by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, and a Special Assignment TV programme.

Some of the key limitations included the non-availability of existing government owned buildings suitable for conversion into One Stop Child Justice Centres. There was also a serious shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists to determine the child’s criminal capacity. The Inter-Sectoral Committee had no integrated system.

Inter-sectoral committee briefing from Department of Women Children and People with Disabilities Ms Rosaline September, Chief Director: Monitoring & Evaluation, Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, mentioned that the establishment of her Department (DWCPD) had improved the coordination and monitoring mechanisms for children. In addition, she noted that South Africa had been a signatory to regional and international treaties on realisation of Children’s Rights. The concept of restorative justice was more responsive to the needs of children. Challenges included the mainstreaming of the social protection measures for poor children in all government programmes. There was a need to improve the joint programmes of all spheres of government, and their inter-sectoral institutional arrangements. Specific Child Justice Act implementation challenges included the need for closer alignment between the Children’s Act, No 38 of 2005, and the Child Justice Act No 75 of 2008. There was a need to strengthen the Courts that dealt with children, with intermediaries to facilitate production and provide training. The country should have special measures for children with disabilities. There should also be reconsideration of the reporting needs in relation to children placed in care of families.

Child Justice Alliance briefing
Mr Morgan Courtenay, Attorney, Child Justice Alliance, said that his presentation wanted to examine the strides made in the implementation of the Act, as evidenced by the sharp decline in the numbers of children held in custody, and the establishment of the diversion centres. He said the Child Justice Alliance was happy that the Act was working but there were concerns regarding the implementation of the Act. Successful implementation would depend on close cooperation between the departments and an assurance that every department would carry out its own mandate.

He noted that the training of the South African Police Service (SAPS), Legal Aid representatives, prosecutors, probation officers, magistrates and Correctional Services professionals was crucial to the proper implementation of the Act. The SAPS did not, however, have a specialised unit to deal with child offenders, and the training should be assessed on a regular basis. Only 22% of SAPS members had been trained on the Act, although it must be recognised that many of them were not on the frontline in dealing with child offenders.

The emphasis on the use of detention had caused confusion among SAPS members, and that could be the reason that the numbers of children held in remand were declining. Children who needed the services provided by the Act should be helped. The status of diversion had to be studied further, to see its impact. He noted that it was mostly NGOs who were involved as service providers in diversion. However, there was an impact on them, as a result of the declining funding sources and accreditation processes. The accreditation process was too rigid, and the provinces were not sticking to uniform process. Courts did not have standardised forms to refer children to diversion facilities.

He recommended that the funding model of NGOs should be reviewed, to ensure quality services especially to rural communities. Child and Youth Care centres should be established in all provinces. The transfer of the previous reform schools and Schools of Industry should be prioritised and the process should be transparent. Regional courts, at One Stop Child Justice Centres, should be part of planning from the start. The jurisdiction of One Stop Child Justice Centre should be increased, to ensure that the centres should be used to the fullest so that as many children as possible benefitted from a multi-disciplinary approach. More information was also needed on who was responsible for providing training to service providers of diversion services.

Young In Prison briefing
Ms Tarisai Mchuchu-Ratshidi, Director, Young in Prison, said that her organisation focussed on interventions that would result in the individual changing his or her behaviour. Participants were encouraged to reconcile emotional conflicts, as well as promoting self awareness. She indicated that the organisation was still using data from the 2011/12 report. There was a major problem since poor information systems management hampered the implementation of the Act. It was not clear whether the Department of Social Development (DSD) was taking its role around children in conflict with the law seriously enough. That was evidenced by the manner in which this Department had reported, in the last Inter-Sectoral annual report. She too reiterated that there were burdensome accreditation processes placed on NGOs. The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) had provided training to Bosasa Staff but there was no indication of what type of training this was. Staff in the Child and Youth Care Centres were not conversant with the Act. She noted also that information gathering and distribution by the Inter-Sectoral Committee was a concern. There was an urgent need to train officials in the departments involved

Discussion
Mr A Matila (Gauteng ANC) said that he was concerned about the presentations, as all the presentations showed different reporting styles. He said that, when the SAPS had given a presentation to the Committee in the previous week, about the DNA Bill, it had mentioned nothing about incorporating the Child Justice Bill. It became clear that players in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster were not communicating, so that the various arms of this body were not communicating. He said that he was irritated by the reliance on outsourcing state duties to private concerns. South Africa wanted to behave like a developed country, yet it was not going through the developmental stages first. When different Departments were using different reporting models it would be difficult for the Committee to assist them with a holistic budget. Five different Departments were, for instance, using five different IT systems. The Department of Basic Education was sitting with lots of empty schools, which could be converted to become Child Justice Centres. In his constituency alone, there were three disused schools. South Africa wanted to compete with countries that took more than 200 years to develop, while the democratic government had been in power for only 20 years. He emphasised that development could not work like that.

Mr Matila said that another problem was that South Africa wanted to build “fancy” correctional centres, like the ones in New York, while there was a problem with one privately-run correctional centre in Mangaung. The same problem was apparent for a centre that had been outsourced in Limpopo, which had cost a substantial amount of money to build. He said that the Department of Social Development created many NGOs and then the following year would fund only a few of them, and he felt that it was wrong to do that. These reports were not really assisting the Committee in identifying areas where Parliament could help with the implementation of the Child Justice Act. The Department of Women Children and People with Disabilities, in his view, wasted a great deal of money travelling all over the world, but doing very little locally on the ground. The Committee had difficulty in monitoring improvement and challenges.

Mr Matila wanted to know about the problems with the NGOs that were not accredited for diversion.

Mr M Mokgobi (Limpopo ANC) said the term of the current politicians was coming to an end, and the Ministers were often absent from crucial Committee meetings where political intervention and answers were needed. He asked the reason why the municipalities were not involved in the planning of the implementation of the Act. Most municipalities did not have the necessary capacity. He also raised his concern about the absence of challenges, noting that only the successes were highlighted in the reports.

Mr Mokgobi asked if the Child Justice Act took cognisance of the socio-economic background of children. Some children could not go to school, and he asked whether children were studying while at the Child Justice Centres or on diversion programmes. He asked about the relationship with the Department of Basic Education and the Inter-Sectoral Committee, in providing education for the children in conflict with the law.

Mr Mokgobi wanted to know more about the plans to address the challenges on the Inter-Sectoral establishment and management, as illustrated on slide 11. He told delegates from the NGO Young In Prison that they should not wait for the Annual report but they were entitled to petition the Committee and indicate if there were problems within the system. He said that he had problems with the facilities that were run by Bosasa, and the substantial amount of money given to service providers.

Mr Matila asked whether the SAPS and other entities had the capacity to train all personnel on the Child Justice Act. He asked who had been training Bosasa, because the Department of Correctional Services was not equipped to train service providers on the Child Justice Act. He wanted to know how the service providers were being trained, and how much money was budgeted for training

Mr J Gunda (Northern Cape ID) said that the Act was very important to South Africa. His main concern was that millions of rands were wasted on consultants. The country was not getting value for money from these consultants. He mentioned that the Committee had visited a correctional centre where children were kept in unhygienic conditions. In a Child Justice Centre in Upington, children were escaping regularly because of inhospitable conditions in the centre. The Nigerian President had complained that South Africa had a larger prison population than Nigeria, despite the fact that South Africa’s total population was less than half of that of Nigeria. The future of South Africa depended on the way that the children were treated. The briefing today did not give a clear picture of the situation, and the Committee would be unable to help.

Mr J Bekker (Western Cape DA) said that the Committee had difficulty in understanding the problems with the implementation of the Act. The briefing gave the impression that the rights of the individual were more important than the welfare of the country. He said that he was worried about the outcomes of the current rehabilitation regime on the lives of children, especially when they reached adulthood.

Mr V Manzini (Mpumalanga DA) said that he had been listening very carefully to the briefings, and that his particular concern with the Bosasa Diversion Centre was that personnel were apparently keeping sjamboks behind their desks, despite the fact that corporal punishment was abolished in 1994. The parents were never given alternatives to discipline their children. He decried the introduction of the Outcomes Based Education (OBE), that led to a near collapse of the education system. He asked the task team what they were doing to discipline and educate children in conflict with the law.

The Chairperson said that children in conflict with the law were a societal problem. There were many problems with the diversion centres. He reiterated that many of the disused schools could probably be used as diversion centres where the children could be accommodated. That showed that there was no communication amongst the departments.

He asked the Committee’s Content Adviser and Researcher to note the issues raised by Members, as the presenters would be asked to provide their answers in writing due to the shortage of time to continue further.

The meeting was adjourned
 

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