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Children’s conversion therapy up for discussion in new bill

A new bill is seeking to prohibit conversion therapy in children, a practice which is not yet banned under the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. 

According to the notice calling for comment from interested parties, conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific practice attempting to “cure” children of homosexuality, and is still rife in South Africa.

“A wide number of international institutions, health practitioners, activists and religious leaders have underlined the severe impacts of conversion therapy on children, including depression, risks of suicide, loss of self-esteem and deep trauma,” reads the notice.

Malan van der Walt, a psychologist specialising in the treatment of LGBTQ+ patients, says conversion therapy is a highly controversial, ethically questionable and generally discredited process. 

“Conversion therapy has been denounced by the professional organisations of the major fields of psychiatry, psychology and social work. There is a lack of empirical evidence to support its effectiveness,” Van der Walt said.

“Research and empirical evidence strongly suggest that the practice is harmful; with negative side effects including poor self-esteem, depression, suicidality, anxiety, social withdrawal and sexual difficulties.”

According to the bill, the current legislative framework of the Children’s Act does not specifically prohibit conversion therapy. The bill will attempt to amend this by inserting relevant definitions providing for the prohibition of conversion therapy on children and that conversion therapy will be considered an offense under the Act.

Lauren Loots, a counsellor registered with the Council for Counsellors of South Africa (C4CSA), says conversion therapy results in feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. 

“This type of therapy also invalidates the feelings of LGBTQ+ children and gives them the idea that they are bad or wrong for having the feelings they are having, which is simply not true,” she says. 

Interested parties have been requested to send comments to the speaker of the National Assembly within 30 days of 5 July. 

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