Presidency's report three years late

The Office of the Rights of the Child in the Presidency is three years late in submitting a progress report on children’s rights to the United Nations—tainting South Africa’s image as a human rights champion.

Child rights activists have slammed the office for failing to submit the report, which was due in 2002 as part of South Africa’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The office drew further fire last week by claiming the report was finished and that it had received an extension allowing it to submit it this year.

“We have received no letter requesting an extension,” said Paulo David, secretary of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
“The committee takes these delays seriously. South Africa will have to produce evidence to show it received an extension.”

The UN committee monitors countries’ progress in implementing the convention, as well as changes in the situation of children internationally.

Activists in the field said the UN was particularly concerned about rising infant mortality rates in South Africa since the previous submission. In 1998, 45 out of 1 000 South African children died before their first birthday—a figure that rose to 60 per 1 000 in 2000. HIV/Aids is thought to be the cause.

When submitting progress reports, each country must respond to UN recommendations in the previous report, in which they are given guidance on how to improve their performance.

“We are concerned because the non-governmental organisation committee must write an alternative report, focusing on implementation,” Carol Bower, executive director of ChildrenNOW, said. “Ideally the two reports should relate to each other, but our hands are tied.”

South Africa’s failure in respect of its international obligations means “there is no coherent summary of where the country is as far as children are concerned”, she said.

Andy Dawes, director of child, youth and family development at the Human Sciences Research Council, said the delay was unfortunate, as South Africa had a good reputation among developing countries for advancing children’s rights. “Our Bill of Rights is a clear example of a commitment to the rights and well-being of children, and we want to maintain that reputation.”

Dawes added that the world child rights community, including Unicef and the Save the Children Alliance, “are aware of the situation [in South Africa] and concerned about it”.

The delay is attributed to staff shortages in the child rights office and a leadership vacuum after the dismissal of former director Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

The Democratic Alliance claims Mkhwanazi-Xaluva was initially suspended in 2003 and later dismissed on charges of forgery, irregular payments, general mismanagement and non-compliance with a memo of understanding between a state-owned enterprise and the child rights office.

“Mkhwanazi-Xaluva was later re-employed in the president’s office and has been suspended once again for serious misconduct including gross insubordination and bringing the Presidency into disrepute,” said Mike Waters, a DA spokesperson. He says the party will be calling for an inquiry into why she was -re-employed, after being found guilty of serious offences.

“The Office on the Rights of the Child has not had a consistent director since 2003, and this has affected its work. Producing the report only really gained momentum last year,” said the office’s current director, Mabel Rantla.

She added that South Africa tried to meet its international reporting obligations, but this was sometimes difficult. “We acknowledge the need to strengthen reporting systems.”

“If countries with fewer resources can get their reports in, South Africa has no excuse,” said London University law professor Geraldine van Beuren, who helped draft the UN convention.