In this virtual meeting, the Committee received a briefing from the Department of Social Development on its response to the public submissions received on the Children’s Amendment Bill. This was a continuation of the Department’s briefing that had begun earlier that week, on Wednesday.
The Committee decided to exclude the Early Childhood Development (ECD) clauses from discussions as the responsibility of the entity was in the process of being transferred to the Department of Basic Education. The ECD clauses would be dealt with in a subsequent bill.
The consideration and adoption of the Motion of Desirability (MoD) on the Bill were deferred pending further consultations on clauses requiring clarification from the legal advisors and other experts. The clause-by-clause deliberations would proceed thereafter.
The Committee agreed to get legal advice on the deletion of prescribed adoption fees and on the matter of corporal punishment. In addition, it supported a proposal to arrange a session with an expert to brief the Committee on the issue of Baby Savers relating to the abandonment of babies.
Members were unhappy with the Department for not submitting responses to questions posed by them in previous meetings. The Department was asked to correct this.
Members expressed concern about the negative impact that the continuous technical glitches and connectivity problems associated with the Zoom platform, had on their work. The Chairperson informed Members of the likelihood of physically meeting in the future, depending on a response from the principals on the Committee’s application for in-person meetings.
The Chairperson allowed for a moment of silence before the start of the meeting. Apologies were received from Ms Lindiwe Zulu, the Minister of Social Development, who was attending another meeting and Ms Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the Deputy Minister, who was recovering from an illness.
Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director-General (DG), DSD, indicated that Ms Isabella Sekwana, Acting Deputy Director-General (ADG): Social Wellness Services, DSD, would take over in his absence as he was planning to soon leave for the airport.
The Chairperson indicated that 15 minutes would be used to adopt outstanding minutes. She thanked Ms J Manganye (ANC) for holding the fort in her absence. She requested a support staff member to brief Members on the pages that were missing from the matrix.
The support staff member explained that amendments were made to the first version of the matrix while it was being printed. Consequently, a number of pages were missing from the hard copies that had been distributed to members. Members were informed, via the WhatsApp platform, of the following additional pages:
pages 105 to 117, submitted by the Cause for Justice & Media Monitoring Africa;
pages 332 to 369, submitted by the Western Cape Department of Basic Education;
pages 420 to 522, submitted by the Early Childhood Development technical task team; and
pages 528 to 530, containing the Summary of key ECD issues.
The Chairperson thanked the support staff member for clarifying the issue of the missing pages.
Mr Mchunu indicated that the previous briefing ended with clause 67 on page 345. The briefing would proceed until the end of the matrix. He asked the Chairperson for guidance on whether the ECD section of the matrix should be presented.
The Chairperson consulted with Members on the proposal to proceed with the ECD clauses in the matrix.
Ms B Masango (DA) suggested that the ECD clauses be excluded in the interest of time and considering the responsibility would be transferred to the Department of Basic Education.
Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) supported Ms Masango’s suggestion. It would not be prudent to deal with ECD clauses as it would be dealt with in a subsequent bill.
Ms K Bilankulu (ANC) and Ms L Arries (EFF) both supported the proposal to exclude the ECD clauses from the briefing.
The Chairperson experienced a technical glitch with her connection but was able to reconnect after a brief moment. She directed the Department to proceed with the presentation of the matrix.
Department of Social Development responses to Children’s Amendment Bill submissions
Adv Luyanda Mtshotshisa, Specialist: Legislative Drafting and Review, DSD, presented the responses of the Department, continuing from clause 67. The following key issues were emphasised:
Clause 109: section 215 of the Act provides that the MEC may prioritise the funding of drop-in centres. The proposed amendment seeks to replace ‘may’ with ‘must’. The Department did not support the amendment because funding to provide shelter, food and other basic necessities depended on the availability of the budget and should therefore not be made compulsory.
Clause 139: section 279 of the Act deals with a legal representative of a child in terms of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The Department noted the amendment to delete the words ‘subject to section 55’ with regard to a legal representative of a child in all applications.
Clause 147: section 312 of the Act provides that the MEC may enter into an agreement with a designated child protection organisation or a person on an agency basis in the relevant province. The Department did not support the proposal that reference should also be made to the provincial HOD as the clause provides for the MEC to delegate powers and duties to any person, who may include the HOD.
Clause 6: section 12 of the Act is intended to align the prohibition of genital mutilation with the new definition and to prohibit any marriage of a child. The issue of child marriages was raised in various submissions received from a number of traditional authorities and other stakeholders in all provinces. The Department supported the amendment to include 18 years as the minimum age of consent to marriage.
Adv Mtshotshisa paused the presentation on page 400 to enquire from the Chairperson whether Members would want to raise questions at this point.
The Chairperson, with the consent of Members, agreed to halt the presentation and to proceed with the remaining items on the agenda.
The Committee Secretary, Ms Lindiwe Ntsabo, confirmed the two outstanding agenda items were the consideration of the Motion of Desirability (MoD) on the Bill and the adoption of two sets of minutes.
Ms van der Merwe sought clarity on the way forward considering that the Committee expressed the view to consult Parliamentary Legal Services on the deletion of prescribed adoption fees and on the matter of corporal punishment. In addition, she requested a session with an expert to brief the Committee on the issue of Baby Savers relating to the abandonment of babies. She was unsure whether it would be appropriate to discuss the MoD of the Bill without first engaging with the legal processes.
The Committee Secretary explained the MoD of the Bill was a notice that Members agreed in principle with the Bill. The Committee was at liberty to consult an expert on the Baby Savers matter. She was concerned that some issues might arise during the clause-by-clause deliberations. The Committee could decide to deal with legal matters at a separate meeting. Some of the legal issues were based on legal opinions that were not part of the legislation while other issues required public participation. Corporal punishment was not covered by current legislation but could be noted in the report on the amendment Bill.
The Chairperson asked if the explanation of the MoD of the Bill was clear to Members and whether they agreed in principle on what had been presented.
Ms Masango understood the explanation but sought clarity on whether the MoD adoption would be voted on before engaging with legal services and the Baby Savers expert.
The Committee Secretary said the matter could be handled in two ways. The adoption of the MoD could be deferred, should the Committee decide to engage with an expert for information on the issue of Baby Savers. The first session of the following week’s meeting could be set aside for the presentation by the specialist. Thereafter, matters that required a legal opinion could be raised for referral to the legal advisors for soliciting advice. Legal services could compile a report of solicited opinions for use by Members in the clause-by-clause deliberations.
The Chairperson asked if Members agreed to defer the MoD adoption until clarity from the legal advisors and the expert were obtained.
The Committee Secretary confirmed that the MoD adoption could be done after obtaining expert opinion. The MoD was a vehicle or license to proceed with the clause-by-clause deliberations. An expert on the matter could be arranged for the following meeting. She requested Members to provide her with a list of legal matters requiring explanation from the legal advisors.
The Chairperson agreed to defer the MoD adoption and to seek clarity on legal matters. The clause-by-clause deliberations could proceed thereafter.
Ms Arries agreed with the process as described by the Committee Secretary.
Ms van der Merwe supported the proposal to engage a Baby Saver expert in the first session of the following week’s meeting and to discuss legal matters afterwards.
The Chairperson urged Members to prepare for the discussion on legal matters after the Baby Saver session.
Ms Masango appreciated the explanation by the Committee Secretary and thanked the Chairperson for allowing the process of obtaining legal and expert opinions. She enquired if Members would be receiving an updated version of the amendment Bill.
The Committee Secretary explained that hereafter, the Committee and not the Department was responsible for the process. After the clause-by-clause deliberations and the incorporation of the amended list of the Legal Department, version B of the Bill would be compiled. The Committee would get an opportunity to scrutinise and consider version B of the Bill. Once an agreement is reached amongst Members, version B of the Bill would be referred to the President.
Ms A Abrahams (DA) supported the deferral of the MoD adoption. She asked by when the list of clauses on which expert opinions were being sought should be submitted to the Secretary. She reminded Members that there had been an agreement about Zoom not being an ideal platform for deliberations due to time limitations. She drew attention to the lack of responses from the Department to questions that were raised in previous meetings. She was still waiting on responses to questions posed two weeks ago. She urged the Chairperson to write a strongly worded letter to the DG about the outstanding responses from the Department.
The Chairperson noted an SMS from the Acting DG, apologising for the late responses. She agreed that the Department was not acting in good faith when they delay responses.
Ms Manganye said there had been an agreement in the meeting of Tuesday, 23 March 2022 that the Department would answer outstanding questions in this meeting, i.e. of 25 March 2022.
The Chairperson condemned the late responses and enquired from the Committee Secretary if the responses had been received.
The Committee Secretary remarked that she had not received an e-mail relating to responses from the Department.
Ms Sekwana replied that there was a miscommunication about the responses. The only submission that required a response related to the budget for ECD development which had been aggregated according to the provinces.
The Chairperson asked the Acting DD to elaborate on the issue of miscommunication.
Ms Sekwana explained the only issue that was raised, related to the request about the ECD budget.
Ms Manganye stated the Committee was running out of time in the meeting held the previous week. A number of questions were subsequently submitted to the Department for written responses.
Ms Sekwana confirmed that the Department agreed to provide responses in this meeting, i.e. of 25 March 2022.
The Chairperson said the responses should have arrived before the meeting.
Ms Sekwana apologised for the delay in responding to the questions of Members.
The Chairperson rebuked the Department for being out of order. The delayed responses were unacceptable. The Committee could no longer accept apology after apology. She proposed that the officials provide responses before 14:00 on 25 March 2022.
Ms van der Merwe expressed doubt that the Department would be able to provide the information at the proposed time. She had asked for statistics on some of the issues. The officials would not be in a position to obtain proper information in the short space of time.
The Chairperson said the Department needed to respond to questions for which information was readily available and indicate the issues which required research.
Ms Bilankulu said something was not right. The officials chose the questions which they wanted to answer but offered apologies to questions from Members. The Department was ill-treating members and taking members for granted.
The Chairperson said the Committee had been too lenient to the Department. The officials should inform Members upfront if the information was not available. She asked the Committee Secretary to indicate the timeframe for the submission of requests relating to the Baby Saver expert and matters requiring a legal opinion.
The Committee Secretary indicated the next two meetings were scheduled for Wednesday, 30 March 2022 and Friday, 1 April 2022. The request was for both meetings to be held physically at Parliament.
The Chairperson enquired if Members approved of meeting physically on Wednesday.
Ms Masango agreed to the physical meeting. She said Members were struggling with connectivity issues.
The Chairperson requested the Committee Secretary to arrange a venue for the engagement with the Baby Saver expert. She proposed that issues requiring clarification from the legal advisor should be submitted by Monday, 28 March 2022. It would be handed to the legal advisor in the meeting on Wednesday, 30 March 2022.
Ms Masango asked if all future meetings could be held in person.
The Chairperson said it depended on the response from the principals. The application for physical meetings had been submitted on 24 March 2022. The Committee Secretary would communicate the response from the principals once it is received. Everyone was keen for one-on-one sessions for the clause-by-clause deliberations.
The Committee Secretary drew attention to the request for permission to use the three constituency days during the first week in April 2022 for further meetings.
The Chairperson advised Members to prepare themselves in the event that permission was granted to stay on in Cape Town.
The Committee Secretary presented the minutes of 9 March 2022 and 16 March 2022 for consideration. Both sets of minutes were adopted without amendments.
The Chairperson expressed the hope to see everyone at next week’s meeting in person.
The meeting was adjourned.
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