Rights groups upset by age of criminal capacity

Child rights organisations on Wednesday intensified calls for Parliament to increase the age at which a child can be held responsible for criminal conduct to 12, saying the current cut-off age of 10 proposed in the Child Justice Bill is too low.

Organisations that objected to the 10-year proposal included the Community Law Centre, the Child Justice Alliance and the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC).

“Although we are not experts in the subject, we support the call for the age to be increased to 12,” said Mike Pothier, of the SACBC.

The organisations were briefing the National Assembly’s justice committee during public hearings.

Current legislation does not allow children who are seven years and younger to be prosecuted for criminal offences. However, the Child Justice Bill currently before Parliament proposes that the current age be increased to 10.

During Tuesday’s hearings, Childline national coordinator Joan van Niekerk told MPs that it is “ridiculous” to prosecute children under the age of 12.

“If the age of consent in the sexual-offence legislation is 16, why do we have to keep that of criminal capacity at 10?” she asked.

Introduced in Parliament in 2002, the measure, which seeks to protect child offenders, calls for the government to establish rehabilitation centres for child offenders across the country.

According to the measure, children under the age of 16 may only be subjected to the traditional prosecution system once a proper assessment — involving a probation officer — has been concluded. — Sapa

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