Monday, June 02, 2008

South African Children's Act: Protection of Children is a Priority; Reader's Survey Results


Protection of children is a priority

It has been ten long years since work initially began on the Children’s Bill. In the meantime the conditions facing the children of South Africa have deteriorated, sometimes with added complications. The Children’s Act of 2005 and the Children’s Amendment Act of 2007 are now ready for implementation.

The protection of children is one of the priorities of the ANC-led government. The protection of children’s rights leads to an improvement in the lives of other sections of the community. It is neither desirable nor possible to protect children’s rights in isolation from their families and communities.

In its aims the Children’s Act seeks to stipulate principles relating to the care and protection of children, define parental responsibilities and rights, and regulate matters concerning the protection and well-being of children.

The Act promotes the preservation and strengthening of families, the provision of integrated social services for all children, and the protection of children from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.

It further makes provision for structures, services and means for promoting and monitoring the sound physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional and social development of children. It also aims to strengthen and develop community structures to assist in providing care and protection to children.

To advance care and protection the Act provides for a two part child protection register. Part A of the register has a record of all reports of abuse or deliberate neglect of a child, all convictions of all persons on charges involving the abuse or deliberate neglect of a child, and all findings of a children’s court that a child is in need of care and protection. Part B of the register is to have a record of persons who are unsuitable to work with children and to use the information in the register to protect children in general against abuse from these persons.

Another important provision is that an alleged offender could be removed with a written notice from the home or place where the child resides. It is in the best interest of the child not to be removed from the home or place where the alleged abuse took place, as the child is in a vulnerable position and should stay in familiar surroundings. A variety of professional people, for example teachers, medical practitioners, psychologists etc, must on reasonable grounds, report a child who has been sexually abused, neglected or abused in a manner causing physical injury.

Right mix of ingredients

Our strong focus on Early Childhood Development (ECD) has been vindicated by ‘The Growth Report’ released last week by the Minister of Finance and the Commission on Growth and Development. The report revealed that fast sustained growth is attainable for developing countries with the "right mix of ingredients".

On the issue of education and skills development the report found that equality of opportunity and gender inclusiveness were necessary to bring the benefits of globalisation to those not yet actively participating in the economy. It found that, for instance, adequate nutrition among infants and children is crucial to the equalisation of opportunity, allowing children to benefit appropriately from educational systems and to then bring this capacity to the workplace.

Our ECD programme aims to ensure that the care of infants and children is paramount and we thus aim to equalise the subsidy at a minimum of R9 per child per day in each province. We hope to subsidise 600,000 children in the current financial year. In the long-term this will provide the foundation to lift children out of poverty.

Poverty is a major cause of child separation. Lifting a family out of poverty can make the difference between a child growing up in a loving family environment or growing up frightened and alone. The Act aims to alleviate this by providing for alternative care such as foster care and child and youth care centres.

Child and youth care centres must offer therapeutic programmes which may include temporary safe care of children pending their placement, protection from abuse and neglect, care and protection of trafficked children, providing counselling and other treatment, and assisting children to reintegrate with their families and communities.

The Act provides for drop-in centres managed for the purpose of providing services to children, including those living, working or begging on the streets. Drop-in centres must provide outreach programmes, as well as prevention and intervention programmes.

The United Nations estimates that 1.2 million children in South Africa have been orphaned as a result of AIDS. The Children’s Act recognises the vital role played by child-headed households. It stipulates that the provincial head of social development may recognise a household as a child-headed household if the parent or care-giver of the household is terminally ill or has died, no adult family member is available to provide care for the children in the household, and a child has assumed the role of care-giver in respect of a child in the household.

Children a priority

The Act treats the matter of services to children as a priority and directs all of us in the various spheres of governance to do the same. Consequently, we should strengthen local level services and support to children. The litmus test of this will be the budget provisions we make towards these objectives. We must also do so in a manner that promotes child participation as well as the enhancement of the capacities of the children’s sector. To advance this we will require the support of the private sector and the broad civil society.

Resources required to implement the Act will be provided in terms of an approach that recognises the existence of competing social and economic needs, without compromising the best interest of children. Government has allocated R22 million in this financial year for the implementation of the Act.

Dialogue between government and civil society forms a sound basis for the protection of children and service delivery. Government cannot deliver services without the support of civil society.

Each one of us is instrumental in making a difference in children’s lives and together we can protect and care for our children. Together we can ensure that we build a caring society.

** Zola Skweyiya is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and Minister of Social Development. This is an edited extract from a speech at the 'Getting South Africa ready to implement the Children's Act' Conference, 27 May 2008.


Online journal gets thumbs up from readers

Now in its eighth year of publication, ANC Today, South Africa's first political party online journal, remains a popular and informative read. Results of a recent online reader survey confirm that the journal is valued by its readers.

First published in January 2001 as a weekly online journal, ANC Today now has over 16,000 subscribers who receive it by e-mail every Friday. It is also accessible on the ANC website and in printed form in most ANC offices. The response to the survey, conducted over the course of two weeks at the end of April, was encouraging. A total of 1,564 responses were received.

Most respondents were regular readers of ANC Today, who read it in the first two days of publication. Most rated ANC Today's coverage of a range of issues highly, and gave high marks for the quality of writing, content of articles and length. Most respondents were happy with the frequency of publication.

Over a third of respondents described themselves as ANC members, public representatives or staff, while another third described themselves as ‘interested South Africans'.

Perhaps the most valuable responses, however, were to the last question, which asked ‘How can ANC Today be improved?' Most respondents had a number of ideas on this subject covering the content of the publication, its design and its accessibility to a wider range of people.

More discussion, please

There was a strong call for more discussion, and contributions from a broader range of ANC leaders. There were a number of calls for the ‘Letter from the President' to appear more regularly. Readers called for opportunities to contribute themselves, with some suggesting online chat forums.

Some readers suggested that print copies be distributed to ANC branches or made available for sale in various outlets. Some asked for articles to appear in different languages.

Sixty percent of respondents read ANC Today in its e-mail form, 37% on the website and only 3% read a printed copy. Nine out of ten read it weekly, and then mostly on a Friday (63%) or Saturday (11%).

The most popular elements are the Letter from the President, analysis of current South African events, information on ANC policy and programmes, and opinion pieces by ANC leaders. Fewer people read it for its analysis of international events, the media or history.

Over 80% find the writing readable, 17% think it's average, and 1% find it unreadable. Seventy-three percent say the articles are informative. A quarter say the content is average.

Most readers think the articles are the right length, with only 3% thinking they should be longer. But at least a third think they're too long. Not surprisingly, given that most respondents receive their copies via text e-mail, not many think the design is attractive, on 28%. Half think the design is 'average', while 21% find it dull.

Three-quarters of respondents don't see any need to change the frequency of publication, while 18% think it should come out more often. Only 8% would like to see it published less often.

It is clear that ANC Today remains a popular and vital source of information and analysis about the ANC. Most respondents were extremely positive about the journal, and were keen that it be improved.

There is a great demand for a journal that speaks about and on behalf of the movement. Readers can expect to see a number of the suggestions they made being taken up by the editorial collective in a new, improved version of ANC Today.

No comments: