Children's Bill approved by assembly

Groundbreaking legislation on childrens’ rights was approved by the National Assembly on Wednesday—nine years after it was first mooted.

The Children’s Bill lowers the age of majority from 21 years to 18, outlaws virginity testing, paves the way for a register of child abusers and cracks down on child trafficking.

It also makes it possible for unmarried fathers to enjoy full parental responsibilities, for the first time allows inter-country adoption, and regulates surrogate motherhood.

“A new legislative foundation for the care and protection of children in our country is being created,” Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya told MPs on Wednesday.

He said current legislation hampered the government’s ability to respond to the “challenging social realties” facing children, families and communities in post apartheid South Africa.

Democratic Alliance MP Mike Waters said that while he welcomed the Bill, during portfolio committee deliberations the African National Congress did a U-turn on children’s right to legal representation by allowing the Legal Aid Board to decide whether there was enough money to provide it.

The department of justice had said that if a child is refused legal representation, he or she could go to the Constitutional Court.

“What rubbish! If a child is unable to obtain legal representation for a civil matter in the Children’s Court how on earth are they expected to go to the Constitutional Court?” he asked.

He also said that despite the Bill having been approved by the Cabinet about three years ago, the costing of the measure began only a few months ago “and we are all in the dark as to how much this Bill is going to cost”.

Mzikayise Ngema of the Inkatha Freedom Party said the Bill was an important piece of legislation which would go a long way to protect the rights of “these vulnerable members of our society”.

He said however there should have been more comprehensive consultations with traditional communities where virginity testing was carried out, to regulate this practice in a humane and respectable manner.

Cheryllyn Dudley, of the African Christian Democratic Party, the only party to vote against the passage of the Bill, said the lowering of the age of consent to medical and surgical treatment to 12 years placed an unfair burden on children.

Another flaw was the Bill’s protection of surrogate mothers who chose to abort a foetus “regardless of the fact that loving parents and a loving home await the arrival of the child”.

It also confirmed that same sex couples could adopt children.

“Our children should not be guinea pigs in social experiments,” she said.

The Bill will now go to the National Council of Provinces. - Sapa

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