Probation Services Amendment Bill & Child Care Amendment Bill: briefing

Social Development

16 February 1999
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Meeting report

WELFARE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

WELFARE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 February 1999
PROBATION SERVICES AMENDMENT BILL; CHILD CARE AMENDMENT BILL: BRIEFING


Documents handed out:
Probation Services Amendment Bill
Child Care Amendment Bill
Prevention and Treatment of Drug Dependency Amendment Bill
[all Bills available at http://www.polity.org.za/govdocs/bills/1999]

SUMMARY
Members of the SA Law Commission went through the Probation Services Amendment Bill clause by clause and then took questions. The Child Care Amendment Bill was likewise addressed. The principles of the Bills were accepted by all but there was a lot of doubt as to how they could be carried out. The shortage of probation officers and social workers in the rural areas would make it impossible to assess the arrested child within 48 hours.

MINUTES
Probation Services Amendment Bill
The purpose of the Probation Services Amendment Bill is to provide for adequate probation and other intervention services for children when first arrested. There was a general discussion of the proposed laws regarding young people in trouble with the law.

Question: About assessment of the child within 48 hours – if they cannot do it within that timeframe, what happens?
Answer: Assessment goes on after 48 hours; every child will be assessed.

Question: When you look at the definition of assessment, there is not enough detail in the definition
Answer: The probation officer will get in touch with another service if needed, and work with other organisations.

Mary Turok (ANC): The pre-sentencing committees – does this happen? These bills are not addressing all matters which need amendment.
The answer was inaudible.

Question: Is not 48 hours too short.
Answer: according to the law it has to be within 48 hours.

Question: How would they be referred to a social worker, and what happens if there are none in the area?
Answer: Use what is available – volunteers if necessary.

Mary Turok (ANC): The probation officer can appoint and dismiss members of the pre-sentencing committee. How many of these committees exist? How many probation officers are there? Where are they?
Answer: 309 probation officers who are social workers. 590 social workers, full and part-time. 39 assistant probation officers.

Mary Turok (ANC): Do those probation officers deal with all cases, not only child offenders?
Answer: Try to concentrate on younger offenders – 65% of their cases. They hope to appoint more probation officers.

Question: If probation officer has to deal with adults, some are very violent; what protection is there for probation officers?
Answer: Before speaking to an offender the probation officer will find out about them; if they are dangerous they will make arrangements for protection.

The committee was taken through the Bill clause by clause. Juvenile justice aims at diverting children away from the criminal justice system. Definitions of 'child', 'diversion', 'family finder' (probation officer can appoint a volunteer to find family of arrested child) , 'family member' (included supporter) are to be found in the Bill.

Question – Mary Turok (ANC): Definition of assessment ridiculous. Should mean evaluation of development and family circumstances of child who should be called ‘child,’ not ‘person.’ Child must be encouraged to accept/admit guilt for offence. Must access innocence. This meaning of assessment must be clearly expressed in its definition. Family Finders could be volunteers appointed by probation officers to assess probationers – this could be tricky. Must set criteria for family finders.

Question: Does child under 18 include married ones? Is 'relation' by blood or not?

Answer: A "child" is anyone under 18. Marriage does alter the stakes - a person is a minor even if married. The Constitution is silent on this. It will have to be looked into.

Question: There should be separate definition of assessment. Is there going to be inquiry which can divert the inquiry to Children’s Court?

Answer: The definition of assessment does not give you the meaning of the word as in a dictionary but gives you an idea of what is intended.

Regarding the issue of committing an offence, confession can affect the case.

Question: Why does English version differ from Afrikaner version: the numbering are different.
Answer: Definitions go according to the alphabet. What makes the order different is the different languages. This will be corrected.

Question: The definition of assessment should be user-friendly. Also, this Bill applies to "child," but only uses the term "person."
Answer: The Bill refers to persons, including children. Where it says "child" it only refers to someone under 18.

Question: With regard to early intervention – where does FAMSA come in?
Answer: This will be discussed later.

Section 2. (a) Amendment to Section 3 of Principal Act by inserting power of Minister to control programmes to allow for early intervention including family group conferences as well as restorative justice.

Ms Turok requested the definition of qualities required for 'family finders'.

Section 4. Mandatory assessment of arrested children.
New section in Act now focuses on children.

Question: Will commissioner in court have time to look at results of assessment?
Answer: Assessment will be made of child – must be diverted and sent to court within 48 hours.

Question: How is is decided whether the child goes to Child Court or Criminal Court.
Answer: There must be an assessment before a course of action is taken. The probation officer present the reports to the Court and the Court decides whether to proceed or not and which Court.

Question: Section 4(A)(e) says that the child be released to a parent or on its own recognisance. What does this mean?
Answer: A child can be released on his own recognisance if already 17 and working and a responsible person.

Question: Section 4(A) refers to "every child" – does that include all offences from stealing a sweet to murder – the offence may be in a rural area miles from court.
Answer: The principle is that a child must be assessed by someone trained to do so. The 48-hour rule will make it very difficult in rural areas.

Ms Turok wondered why the police could not release a child with a warning if the offence is slight, such as petty theft?

Section 5 – Minister may establish centres as well as services.
Section 6 – Excludes assistant probation officer from the power to appoint volunteers such as family finders.
Section 7 – provides details regarding family finders.

Child Care Amendment Bill
3 key provisions:
Provision for right of appeal: Section 16 (a)
Placement orders made under section (15).
Amendment of section 34 of the Principal Act to do away with compelling a Minister to transfer children from a system of care to another (i.e., from children’s home to reform school).
Amendment to section 54 of Principal Act – provides for estimating age of child. There is a minor amendment which ensures that age estimation must not be done on appearance alone.
Section 1(a) – targets person who is exploiting a child economically – commercial or sexual exploitation.
Section 1(b) – defines secure care.
Section 3 – Minister may establish and monitor secure care facilities.
Section 4 – amends Section 34.
Section 5 – amends Section 50A.
Owner of premises where children are exploited can be sentenced to imprisonment, not exceeding 10 years, or large fine, or both.

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