SA's child prisoners


A 12-year-old was sentenced to six months in prison for reckless and negligent driving, while a 13-year-old got five years for an “economic offence”, Parliament’s justice and constitutional development portfolio committee heard on Tuesday.

Briefing members, National Council on Correctional Services official Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen said such imprisonment was illegal, and contravened the Correctional Services Act.

The committee was holding hearings on the Child Justice Bill. Sloth-Nielsen said that from 1998 to date, a total of 308 children—aged between eight and 14—had been held in South Africa’s prisons awaiting trial.

Of these, 74 had been sentenced. “Present legislation in terms of the 1996 amendment to section 29 of the Correctional Services Act says that no one under the age of 14 could be imprisoned—and I contend that this imprisonment is illegal and the state could be held liable,” Sloth-Nielsen said.

She said the majority of crimes related to house-breaking and property offences, but it was difficult to compile data because in many instances warrants were incomplete, or destroyed.

According to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro), 10 children have died—nine of them from unnatural causes, such as assault—in South Africa’s prisons between January 1999 and April 2000.

Nicro deputy executive director Lukas Muntingh said his organisation recommended no children under the age of 14 be sent to prison.

Children found guilty of crimes should be sent to places of safety, irrespective of the severity of their crime, he said.
This prompted a question from committee chairman Johnny de Lange, who asked: “In your view, there is no situation where

society must be protected from such children?”.

“That’s correct,” answered Muntingh.

De Lange also commented on what he called a lack of reliable statistics from the department of correctional services.

“The committee can’t make decisions if they do not have the statistics… because then the issue becomes a thumbsuck and one can’t develop policies,” he said. - Sapa

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