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'We must do more to protect children'

8 November 2010

South Africa needs to introduce tougher legislation to protect the country's children from all forms of abuse, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana said on National Children's Day.

Xingwana was speaking during Children's Day celebrations in Rustenburg, North West province on Saturday.

The first Saturday of November is National Children's Day in South Africa, and participants at the weekend's celebration included youngsters who shared their experiences of abuse through drama and poetry.

Xingwana said the ministry was working with various non-governmental organisations to introduce several campaigns aimed at combating child abuse both at home and community level.

Child Justice Act

South Africa had also recently passed the Child Justice Act, which will ensure the establishment of a separate criminal justice system for children in conflict with the law.

According to the Act, children in conflict with the law must appear before a preliminary inquiry within 48 hours after an arrest has been made and cannot be detained with hardened criminals.

Xingwana said the law should not punish children but provide measures to correct undesired behaviour.

"As a nation, we have an obligation to ensure that children grow up in a safe environment," the minister said. "The family ... should be afforded the necessary assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibility within the community."

16 Days of Activism

The government will be using this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse campaign to mount events aimed at raising awareness and influencing behaviour.

The campaign, which is endorsed by the United Nations, takes place from 25 November, international day of no violence against women, to international human rights day on 10 December.

According to Child Welfare South Africa, child trafficking and child abuse is rife in South Africa.

The organisation says it is exploring ways to partner with the religious bodies to ensure the protection of children. This has led to the development of its Prayer for and Protection of Children, 365 days a year (P x 2 x 365) campaign.

"We are speaking to religious leaders, but want to kick start the campaign with individuals," said campaign head Ashley Theron. "The gist of the campaign is to involve every one, no matter their religion, to pray for children and to play their part in the protection of children."

Largest number of orphans, neglected children

Research shows that although South Africa is the most developed country on the continent, it also has one of the largest number of orphans and neglected children as a result of the high prevalence of HIV/Aids.

The Department of Social Development estimates that 19 percent of the child population in the country has lost one or both parents.

Xingwana said South Africa had put a number of measures in place to assist underprivileged children, with over 10-million children across the country receiving child support grants.

From January this year, the age limit for children eligible for this grant increased from 14 to 15 years. It will be extended to 16-year-olds in 2011, and to 17-year-olds in 2012.

There is also a foster grant for children placed in other families, and care dependency grants for those with disability.

The majority of schools in poor areas have been declared no-fee schools, while health care remains free for children under the age of five.

Source: BuaNews

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