Children’s Bill: hearing

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


7 November 2005

Ms J Masilo (ANC, North West)

Documents handed out:
Mini Research Report on Girl Child Traditional Circumcisions/Initiations in the Limpopo Province of South Africa
Summary of Submissions to the Children Bill

The South African Girl Child Alliance (SAGCA) delegation presented a research report on female initiation practices amongst the Venda, Swazi, and Ndebele cultures of the Limpopo Province. It was discovered that all these cultures practiced female initiation. The aim of initiation was to ensure that women were prepared for womanhood and marriage. Nonetheless, it was pointed out that female circumcision was not practiced in the Limpopo Province. However, in certain villages the girls labia was stretched as part of the initiation process. The delegation recommended that female initiation should be permitted as it was an integral part of these cultures. However, they suggested that women should also be taught to be confident and independent during initiation. In the ensuing discussion, Members were concerned that girls as young as nine years old were undergoing initiation. They suggested that perhaps there should be a minimum age limit on female initiation. Members also asked whether the process of stretching the labia was painful.

The Committee deliberated on the summary of submissions, some causes were discussed while some were flagged and others were amended. Members agreed to continue with the deliberations at a later date.

Submission on Girl Child Circumcision/Initiations in the Limpopo Province
Ms A Kekana (SAGCA Limpopo Province Coordinator) presented a research report, which she had compiled on girl child circumcision and initiation in the Limpopo Province. She provided the history on circumcision and initiation in the Limpopo Province. The imitation of girls into womanhood had deep historical roots amongst the people of the Limpopo Province. It was a method of socialising girls, and ensuring that they were empowered to enter into womanhood.

Ms Kekana provided the names of the people that she had interviewed in the course of carrying out her research. These people were Venda and Ndebele speakers from the Ga-Marishane, Ga-Masemola, Bolahlakgomo, Motelane, Zebediela, Ga-Chuene, Ga-Mphahele and Kgapane villages. She then discussed, contrasted and compared the initiation ceremonies of these villages. It was noted that initiation ceremonies for girls were common to all the villages. An authorised person or village head would summon a group of girls, from the age of nine, to undergo initiation. In all the villages, suitable houses were selected as initiation sites. The girls were brought to these houses by their parents/guardians, who were required to pay a fee for their daughter’s initiation. In all the villages, the initiation process lasted for a period of three weeks. However, none of the villages practiced female circumcision – in fact, female circumcision was not practiced in South Africa. In certain villages, however, the girls’ labia were stretched as part of the initiation process. The aim of the initiation ceremony, in all the villages, was to prepare the girls for marriage.

Ms Kekana noted that changes in society were threatening the existence of the girls’ initiation ceremonies. These included the migration of rural people to urban areas; people converting to Christianity; the education system; a scarcity of traditional medicinal roots due to climate change; and the breakdown of traditional values.

Ms M Lukoto (Venda Representative) described how the initiation of girls was conducted in the Venda culture. She noted that Venda girls were eager to participate in the initiation ceremonies. Girls that had started to menstruate were required to undergo initiation. However, girls that were already sexually active were excluded from the initiation process. Ms Lukoto then discussed the details of the initiation process. She noted that the initiation rituals would always begin on a Friday. All the girls that were undergoing initiation would gather in a house together. On Friday night, adults would lecture the girls on sexuality, pregnancy, abstinence before marriage; respect; and family values. Most of the ceremonies around the initiation were conducted at the chief’s kraal. The girls were not harmed in anyway during the initiations. She added that virginity testing was no longer part of the initiation process. The initiation process lasted for a period of one week and a celebration was held for the girls on completion of their initiation.

Ms A Mahlangu (Ndebele Princess) outlined the initiation process for girls in the Ndebele culture. She noted that a grandmother or aunt would ensure that their young female relatives underwent initiation when they started to menstruate. However, circumcision was not practiced. During the initiation, the girls were not physically harmed in anyway. Rather, the girls were educated on how to become a woman. She added that all Ndebele girls should be initiated, as it taught people self-respect and respect for others. Ms G Masango (Ndebele Representative) added that girls were taught the Ndebele culture during the initiation process. Indeed, initiation was being used as a form of moral regeneration. Ms Masango added that the initiation was done in the girls’ homes. This differed from the Venda culture where there were communal initiation houses.

Ms E Fakude (Swazi representative) discussed issues surrounding female initiation in the Swazi culture. It was noted that female circumcision was not practised by the Swazi people. However, Swazi girls, from the age of 10, did undergo initiation. She pointed out that initiation was a family matter. In the Swazi culture, girls also routinely underwent virginity testing. These virginity tests were usually conducted by a grandmother or aunt. During these tests, the girl’s body was examined, which included examining her nipples, her breasts, her thighs, the back of the knees and her buttocks. If the girl was a virgin her nipples, breasts and body would be firm. If the back of the girl’s knees were smooth she was a virgin; however, if she had holes in the back of her knees then she was no longer a virgin. Another way of testing a girl’s virginity was to bath her. If the water stuck to her skin in droplets when she emerged from the bath, she was a virgin. However, if the water flowed off her skin, she was no longer a virgin. Some older women in the community also had the ability to test whether a girl was a virgin. Ms Masango added that initiation taught girls self-respect and pride. Added to this, the initiation process prepared girls to undertake the reed-dance. This dance would be undertaken annually at the king’s residence. Once a girl, or women, became pregnant, she could no longer participate in the reed-dance. Ms Masango felt that female initiation should be allowed to continue, as it was a cultural practice.

Ms Kekena stated that Venda, Swazi and Ndebele female initiation ceremonies should be respected. Hence, female initiation amongst these cultures should be allowed to continue. However, she recommended that slight alterations could be made to the initiation teachings. For example, during initiation, girls could be taught how to be confident, assertive and independent. In addition, female initiation could perhaps become more gender sensitive. She added that perhaps the stretching of the girls’ labia could be replaced by a different practice.

Mr B Tolo (ANC, Mpumalanga) was concerned that girls, as young as nine years old, were undergoing female initiation. In the light of this, he enquired whether it was possible to set a minimum age limit. Perhaps a minimum age of sixteen should be implemented for female initiation. Indeed, nine year old girls should not be subjected to having their labia stretched. A Member added that children needed to be protected.

Mr M Thetjeng (DA, Limpopo Province) responded that the transition from childhood to womanhood was not an isolated, once off, event; but a process. This process, which was educational, could last for years. Hence, it would be difficult to establish a minimum age limit. Ms Kekana added that girls were maturing at an early age. Girls as young nine were undergoing initiation because they had started menstruating

Mr Tolo noted that the delegation had recommended that female initiation ceremonies become more gender sensitive. He asked the delegation to explain what they meant by "gender sensitive". Ms Kekana responded that girls tended to be taught only how to please men during initiation. This needed to change.

Mr Thetjeng remarked that South Africa’s cultures were protected in the Constitution. South Africa should not be a Eurocentric country. African cultures and cultural practices needed to be respected and protected. As a result, he noted that the Children’s Bill should respect African cultural practices.

Mr Thetjeng noted that female circumcision was not practiced in South Africa. He added that it would be sad if the Children’s Bill negatively impacted on female initiation in South Africa.

Ms N Madlala-Magubane (ANC, Gauteng) asked whether any instruments were used to stretch the girls’ labia during certain female initiations. In addition, she asked whether qualified doctors were undertaking this procedure. She also enquired whether the girls experienced any pain. Ms Kekana responded that no instruments were used to stretch the girls’ labia; it was done by hand. She remarked that it was a gentle process, and it appeared as if the girls did not experience any pain.


Mr Pierre, Department of Social Development, said that cultural matters would be dealt with in Chapter 76 clause 12. He said that the Bill would be sent back to the National Assembly.

Mr Tolo (ANC) disagreed with the Department.

Ms A Johaan, State Law Adviser said that she would consult with Parliamentary Law advisers regarding the correct procedures and report to the Committee at a later date.

Clause 1
The Department said that the UCT law clinic suggested amendments to the clause.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee had disagreed with the amendment.

Clause 2
Objects of Act.
Molo Songololo proposed an insertion of a paragraph to the clause. The Department felt that the insertion should be flagged for later.

Clause 6 (6)
Best interest of the Child standard
The University of Cape Town (UCT) Law Clinic suggested an insertion and the Department felt that it was not necessary.

Mr Thetjeng (DA) asked what would happen to children of refugees when both parents died while they were in South Africa. He said that refugee children needed all the protection accorded to their South African counterparts. There was a need to be specific on "refugee children".

Dr Mabetoa, Department said that only South African citizens qualified to be included. The term "unaccompanied foreign children" included "refugee children".

Mr Tolo (ANC) said that foreign children were covered, he felt that there no need to be specific.

The Chair noted that the Committee agreed to the clause, without amendments.

Clause 12
Harmful social and Cultural Practices
The Chairperson noted that the Committee agreed to flag the clause.

Clause 22
Parental responsibility and rights agreement
The Chairperson noted that the Committee agreed that the amendment to the clause should be part of the 76 Bill.

Clause 53
Who may approach court
The Department felt that it was not necessary to amend the clause and the Committee agreed not amend it.

Clause 54
Legal Representation
The Chairperson noted the Committee agreed to the clause, without amendments.

Clause 55
Legal Representation of Children
The Chairperson noted that the Committee had flagged the clause.

Clause 57
Compulsory attendance of Persons involved in proceedings
Mr Tolo said that the Bill should not exclude people who were working at local Government level.

Ms R Van Zyl, Researcher South African Law Commission said the phrase " anybody that worked within the public service" was inclusive of the local government of local government employees.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee agreed to the amendment of the clause.

Clause 118-128
The Department felt that clause 128 (4) was catered for in the Bill.

Mr Tolo was opposed to keeping the names of sexual offenders in the register forever. He then suggested that five years was a reasonable period.

Mr Hendriecks (ANC) said that it was okay to keep them in the register for five years. Child abusers should never be allowed to work with children again, or else they should remain in the register forever.

Mr Tolo cited the example of teachers who had been in the register would never be able to work in their profession again.

Mr Thetjeng reiterated Mr Hendricks position and said the child would be scared for life, he felt strongly that offenders should remain in the register for life.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee agreed to flag the clause

Clause 129-134
The Chairperson noted that the Committee agreed to increase the age from 12 years to 14 years.

Clause 150 (1)
Dr Mabetoa said that it was not necessary to amend the clause.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee agreed to the clause without amendments.

Clause 150 (2)
The Chairperson ruled that the clause would be flagged

Clause 166- 166
Mr Thetjeng said that he agreed with the proposed amendment.

Ms R Van Zyl explained that the purpose of the clause was to make sure that the money would benefit the deserving child.

The Chairperson ruled that the clause was flagged.

The meeting was adjourned


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