Child Justice Bill; Childrens Bill: briefing

Basic Education

24 March 2003
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
25 March 2003
CHILD JUSTICE BILL; CHILDREN'S BILL: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr S Mayatula

Documents handed out:
Implementing Education White Paper 6: Presentation by Department
Draft Children's Bill - draft as of January 2003
Child Justice Bill [B 49-2002]

SUMMARY
The Department of Education briefed the Committee on the Child Justice Bill and Childrens Bill and the Department's readiness to accommodate awaiting trial and sentenced learners to divert them from the prison system. The Committee discussed Clause 68(2)(b) of the Child Justice Bill, which requires that permission be sought for the child to remain in the institution until the age of 21 for the purpose of completing their studies. Members would caucus on the Bills with a view to making recommendations to the Justice Committee, to whom the Child Justice Bill has already been referred.

MINUTES
Dr S Naicker (Department of Education) briefed the Committee on the Department's plans to receive minors awaiting trial or already sentenced into its care in an attempt to divert them from the prison system. There are currently three reform schools in the country and sixteen schools of industry. The Committee was unhappy with this briefing. as they had been expecting to be guided through the Child Justice Bill and advised on whether to accept it in its entirety.

The Chairperson interrupted Dr Naicker's presentation to say that the aim of the Committee was to make an input on the Bill. Mr Mayatula asked to be taken through the Bills: Child Justice Bill and Childrens Bill.

Dr Naicker advised that the DoE was in agreement with the aims of the Child Justice Bill but that certain things needed to be put in place in order to give the Bill 'teeth'.

Ms Ann Skelton (Department of Justice) said that there was only one clause that possibly needed discussion: Clause 68(2)(b). This clause requires that permission be sought for the child to remain in the institution until the age of 21 until their studies have been completed.

Mr Mayatula said the Constitution would not be flouted if the child remained in a youth care centre until the age of 21 because many South African learners did not start school until the age of ten or eleven.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) said that it might be problematic to deal with groups who are studying alongside those who were not.

Mr R Ntuli (DP) asked what the Committee's mandate was with respect to the Bills.

The Chair replied that the Speaker had asked the Committees to look at the Bill and suggest amendments.

Ms MP Mentor (ANC) noted that the Bills were silent on the issue of learners who underwent 'legalistic processes' at school and were subsequently expelled. The South African Schools Act (SASA) and the DoE were equally silent on the matter.

Ms Skelton agreed with Ms Mentor's observation that there was no relation between the Bills in question and school disciplinary hearings. Children were therefore being directed away from both school and the justice system. She felt that SASA should address this.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) asked whether sentenced children shared prisons with adults and how many awaiting-trial child prisoners there were.

Ms Skelton said that there were three categories of child offenders and only children who had committed Category Three crimes were in prison, although they were held in a separate part of the prison.

On any given day, there are 2 300 children awaiting trial, 1 800 serving sentences, 2000 awaiting trial in custody and 400 in reform schools. The new Bills would halve the number awaiting trial, and, over time, the number in prison.

Mr Mayatula asked for clarity regarding the following: if two seventeen year olds were sentenced and one was studying and one was not, where would the one who was not studying be sent?

Ms Skelton said that nobody went from reform school to prison to compete their sentences because magistrates would not send seventeen year olds to reform schools. Many children preferred to stay on at schools of industry for reasons of access even when they were free to leave.

Mr I Vadi (ANC) asked about infrastructure backlogs and whether the curriculum was appropriate for children who had committed Category Three crimes. He also asked whether there were models of the system under discussion elsewhere in the world.

Mr BM Khompela (ANC) asked when the Bill would become operational. He was in favour of the Bill because it gave room to a child to develop between the ages of fourteen and twenty one. He was afraid that children who had to apply to complete their studies and stay on in the system might be stymied by bureaucracy. He noted that schools of industry were not currently places where children could be redeveloped. He asked whether the provincial budget accompanied a child from one province who was completing his sentence in another. He noted that the DoE wanted to broaden the system to incorporate children even if they were not criminal. He asked why and urged that the Department not mindlessly comply with White Paper 6.

Mr BG Molewa (ANC) asked whether children in prisons had access to adult prisoners.

An ANC speaker said that it was important for Members to interact with the Bill so that Ms Mentor's question could be more adequately addressed. Some questions were adequately addressed but it would be necessary to raise the ones that were not. He proposed that the Committee study the Bills further and that a small reference group should discuss the issues that arose with the Department of Justice. A Member proposed a joint sitting with the other Departments involved.

Mr Mayatula said that they were complicating the issue unnecessarily and did not need a joint sitting as the Committee was only concerned with Clause 68 of the Child Justice Bill.

Dr Naicker said that, because of the lack of adequate physical infrastructure, the Department had put steps in place to create better infrastructure. Regarding compliance with White Paper 6, he said that it agreed with DoE policy and the RNCS (Revised National Curriculum Statements) regarding inclusivity, emphasis on human rights, and any facilities and programmes to be constructed would fall within this broad policy. One could look at best practice elsewhere in the world but inclusive education and training was uncharted in any country and that was why it was necessary to field-test.

Regarding whether a provincial budget would follow a sentenced child, he said that it remained for the various national and provincial Departments to work out plans in terms of budgets.

Ms Skelton said that the Child Justice Bill would be passed in 2003 but implemented fully in three years' time. Regarding children in prisons, she said that some provinces had separate prisons for sixteen to twenty four year olds. These prisoners were educated together but slept separately.

Ms Mentor said that she felt it was necessary to look at more than Clause 68 "with educators' glasses". The Chair agreed with her. Members of the Committee would have to look at the Bills alone and caucus with their constituencies.

Dr Naicker said that the DoE was supportive of the two Bills but the Committee should try to see whether the Department could empower itself to accomplish the aims of the Bills.

Mr Mayatula said he would have preferred a clear recommendation from the DoE to approve the Bills since the Committee members would have to make formal announcements on whether their caucuses approved the Bills or not.

Mr Van den Heever noted that the Bill would not be formally tabled by the Education Committee but by the Justice Committee. Mr Mayatula agreed with this but felt that it was still necessary to make formal considered recommendations to the Justice Committee.

Mr Maytatula said that part of the meeting the following week would be devoted to discussing the results of the caucusing on the Bills.

The meeting was then adjourned.

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