The LRC believes that children are the foundation on which a new South Africa must build itself. Although a number of important Constitutional Court cases have resulted in an evolving jurisprudence that impact on the realisation of children’s socio-economic rights, numerous key challenges remain. Some, such as the failure to implement legislation and fulfil government commitments successfully, reflect a general struggle within Government to give practical effect to the objectives it has set itself. In this regard, the LRC has sought to intervene on a number of levels: to advocate for changes in policy and legislation; to work together with government in the drafting of regulations; and to engage with public servants in order to improve mechanisms for faster delivery.
The LRC continues to seek long term remedies to social inequalities by representing children whose concerns are symptomatic of the plight of rural and impoverished communities throughout South Africa. It acts to compel the state to honour its obligations to children.
We have participated in various meetings dealing with the Children’s Amendment Bill. We continue to engage in law reform efforts and to work together with other NGOs including the Education Rights Project at Wits University; University of Pretoria’s Child Litigation Project, Centre for Applied Legal Studies; the Children’s Institute at University of Cape Town; the Socio-Economic Rights Project at the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape; Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Assistance (ACESS); and the Children’s Rights Centre in Durban.
Barriers to education:
Specifically, the LRC uses the law to challenge barriers to education, including:
Non-registration of birth and its negative consequences on children:
Birth registration not only gives a child a recognized legal existence and identity, but it opens the door to other rights such as access to health and education services, offers protection against discrimination and neglect and determines a child’s treatment within the justice system. Currently there is no express provision concerning the need for the implementation of an effective birth registration mechanism and process in South Africa.
Inability to access to social welfare grants and the impact of HIV/AIDS:
We have an ever increasing number of young children who are affected by HIV/AIDS through the death of one or both parents, through having to care for an ill family member and/or through being infected themselves. Poor access to social welfare, such as child support and foster care support grants, is a formidable challenge to the well-being of these children. In a number of cases, these difficulties are a direct result of the fact that the growing reality of child-headed households is not catered for in the current system. In addition, systems are unable to respond timeously to the urgency of their circumstances.
Such children are also prone to discrimination, social exclusion, rejection and isolation. They have increased nutritional demands and are more likely to be subjected to sexual exploitation, trafficking, hazardous labour and disinheritance. The LRC continues to take on cases with the potential to improve the circumstances that these children face.
The LRC has taken up issues dealing with the foster care placement, safety fees for children that are put in places of safety, custody and adoption of orphans.
Undocumented (refugee) minors and street children:
The Children’s Charter of South Africa, 1996, explicitly recommends that “children who are orphaned, abandoned, homeless, exiled or refugees have a right to be placed in safe and secure families”. Refugees’ access to the Children’s Court in order to formalize their status as children in need of care is marred with obstacles and delays. The result is that these children are left for an indefinite period of time within informal foster placements that are not able to access foster care grants.
The LRC has already identified a lacunae in the law, whereby unregistered children and foreign children are unable to access social welfare grants as they do not have an identity number that is recognisable through the required 13-digit barcode. We have successfully challenged the Minister of Social Development to remove the reservation of child-support grants and care-dependency grants to South African citizens only.
Violence and sexual abuse experienced by children:
Within South Africa, the number of crimes reported against children has reached alarming proportion. Unacceptably high levels of violence, particularly sexual violence, has an especially disproportionate impact on girl-children. Rape is among the most prevalent crimes against children. Violence against children and their sexual exploitation were the most common forms of abuse cited.
Social development objectives of government are not only meant to be addressed through the payment of social grants to advance the rights of vulnerable children, but also through a range of interventions where children are victim to or at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation. These include the Children’s Court services. However, there is concern about the quality of representation of minors in such matters as well as the quality of reports generated by social workers that are pivotal in such cases, which the CRP has had to confront.
Inefficiency in providing the necessary protection and support to children in terms of prevention of abuse, together with a lack of access to recourse and restitution after the abuse had been perpetrated, contribute significantly to the absence of personal security for children.
Children with disabilities:
The implementation of policies concerning children with disabilities are not always interpreted and applied uniformly or in the best interests of the child. The LRC continues to take on matters to protect the rights of children with disabilities.