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Address by hon Stanford Maila (ANC) MP, debate on the Child Justice Amendment Bill in the National Assembly

27 November 2018

Hon speaker, as we celebrate the centennial birth of two icons of our struggle who contributed immensely to our freedom, democracy and the birth of a new, Mama Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu and Tata Rolihlahla Mandela, we remember the words of uDalibhunga: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." It is thus befitting that the African National Congress support the Child Justice Amendment Bill. The Child Justice Act, which is the legislation which addresses the issue of children who are in conflict with the law. The Act came into operation in 2010 to establish a child justice system which protects the rights of children who are in conflict with the law, in accordance with the values underpinning the Constitution. As we are aware, our Constitution is premised on the fundamental value of Ubuntu.

While holding children accountable for their actions and safeguarding communities in line with Chapter 12 of the National Development Plan: All People Feel Safe are imperative, the Child Justice Act is imbued with the spirit of ubuntu. It is imbued with human dignity and self-worth. Under the Child Justice Act (Principal Act), children under the age of ten (10) are deemed to lack the criminal capacity to be charged criminally. Section 7 of the Act provides that a child under the age of 10 who commits an offence is presumed not have criminal capacity and cannot be arrested nor prosecuted.

This Amendment Bill raises the minimum age to 12 years for purposes of diversion and preliminary inquiries. In October this year, Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister, Honourable John Jeffery reported to the Portfolio Committee with regards to child justice, 75% of preliminary enquiries for children were finalised within 90 days, against a target of 55%.

South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter, and thereby incurred various obligations regarding the treatment of children - this includes the issue of children in conflict with the law. A minimum age of criminal capacity below the age of 12 years is considered by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child not to be internationally acceptable. State parties like South Africa are encouraged to increase their minimum age of criminal capacity to 12 years as an absolute minimum and to continue to increase it to a higher age level.

This Bill follows the approach of our glorious movement, the African National Congress, of restorative justice. With our firsthand understanding of the inhumane and punitive nature of apartheid prisons of yesteryears; which are something no one, especially children should be exposed to, we committed ourselves to creating correctional centre's. We choose to correct people when they have transgressed. The Bill places an increased emphasis on the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of children in order to minimise the potential for re-offending (recidivism).

The Bill promotes the possibility of diverting matters involving children who have committed offences away from the criminal justice system, while children whose matters are not diverted, are to be dealt with in the criminal justice system in child justice courts. This Bill promotes the spirit of Ubuntu in the Child Justice system.

Since assuming power, the ANC ushered in the principle of paramountcy of the interests of the minor child. We put children at the centre, in line with Tata Madiba's quotation. It can never be in our interests to place young children who have transgressed in prison cells as a point of departure. We subscribe to the Xhosa saying:
"Umthi ugotywa usemtsha" meaning "You bend a tree while it is still young".

We believe that there is no tomorrow without our children. There is no hope for a brighter future without our children. As it takes a village to raise a child, the implementation of the Bill will require collaboration with the relevant departments in the social transformation and JCPS clusters, civil society, faith based organisations and most importantly - families as that families are the foundation of relationships The ANC supports this Bill.

Thank you Hon members.

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