As South Africa commemorates the Child Protection Week 2015 under the theme “Working Together to Protect Children”, the number of children awaiting trial in the country’s remand detention facilities has been reduced by 74%.
In the 2013/14 financial year, 129 awaiting-trial children were held in the country’s remand detention facilities, down from 497 in 2009/10. The number of sentenced children also declined by 62.1% between 2009/10 and 2014/15 financial years, from 538 to 204.
The ccting national commissioner of Correctional Services, Zach Modise, said the reduction of children incarcerated in correctional facilities was a product of close collaboration between various partners of the criminal justice system, particularly the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The Department of Correctional Services refers awaiting trial children to courts for consideration after every 14 days of detention to facilitate the conclusion of their cases, in line with the Child Justice Act. Children are treated as a special category as one of the vulnerable sectors among the country’s 159 563 inmates. They are accommodated separately from juveniles and adults and receive special attention in respect of rehabilitation programme, particularly education.
“We will continue to promote the successful rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law, while also ensuring the implementation of the provisions of the Child Justice Act on handling of children who break the law,” Modise said.
“We must also continue to raise awareness and mobilise all sectors and communities towards the holistic development, care and protection of our children. We must educate communities to put children first, in line with government’s commitment to build a South Africa that is fit for children.”
The sentencing principles for child offenders changed fundamentally when the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa was adopted in 1996.
This change was necessitated by Section 28 of the Constitution, which introduced a set of rights specifically aimed at the protection of children. Some of these rights directly affect children “in conflict with the law”, as child accused or offenders are often referred to. In relation to sentencing, important rights include that the best interests of the child are paramount and that children should not be imprisoned unless such imprisonment is unavoidable.
According to the Child Justice Act, Act 75 of 2008, a “child” is defined as someone under the age of 18.
The Act establishes a criminal justice system for child accused, separate from the criminal justice system, which continues to apply for adult accused. The Act aims to keep children out of detention and away from the formal criminal justice system, mainly through diversion. When these interventions are deemed inadequate or unsuccessful, the Act provides for child accused to be tried and sentenced in child justice courts.
During the Child Protection Week, 31 May to 7 June 2015, every sector of the South African society takes time to reflect on progress made to realise the ideals of a society that is free of child abuse, neglect, ill-treatment and violence against children.