Setback for child rights law

Time has run out for the Children’s Bill. Parliament’s social development committee says it cannot properly deal with the proposed legislation, which aims to establish a framework to protect the rights of the child, before the elections.

The Bill will probably stand over to the new Parliament. This is a setback for the Ministry of Social Development, which wanted the legislation processed before the elections.

“We’ve always been very exited about working on a children’s law. But it has come at a time when we can’t do justice to it,” says committee chairperson Cas Saloojee.

“We don’t want to fall into the trap where we do not have sufficient time to apply our minds. This is a law that will impact on all the children of South Africa.”

Amid frustration within the parliamentary committee about the slow progress so far in processing the Bill, there appears to be agreement across party political lines that it is impossible to deal properly with the legislation this session. The law has repeatedly been held up by consultations and amendments.

The social development committee’s recommendation on Wednesday that the Children’s Bill stand over was not discussed during a meeting of Parliament’s programming committee the next day. However, at the programming committee meeting it emerged that none of the Bills currently before the justice committee — including the Sexual Offences Bill, which seeks to broaden the definition of rape and set in law a survivors right to anti-retroviral treatment — will be passed by this Parliament.

It appears that legislation on Parliament’s financial administration and several health Bills will also not make it.

In the making for over six years, the Children’s Bill has been beset with difficulties. Child rights lobbyists have warned repeatedly that the Bill was being rushed through and have criticised it for leaving children at the risk of falling through gaps in the social security network.

In an attempt to get a comprehensive child rights law on to the statute books, the Social Development Ministry last week submitted a new version of the Bill — dealing only with national functions on child and parental rights, surrogate motherhood, adoption and child courts. The legislation related to provinces was to be tabled after the elections.

With the election date as yet unknown, but widely expected to be in early April, speculation is rife that Parliament could rise as early as the end of February.

Effectively this would leave only three weeks to process the Bill, from public hearings — which require at least two weeks’ public notice — to committee deliberations and possible amendments, to adoption in Parliament.

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