BY The Social Worker
The Children’s Act provides a range of rights and responsibilities for Children and their families. The aim of the act is to support families and parents to promote their children’s well-being and to empower and develop them to prevent abuse and neglect. This is to ensure that they take appropriate care of their children.
The Rights of children in South Africa
A child is a person under the age of 18.The rights of all children are contained in the Bill of Rights and they clearly state that children’s rights must be promoted, protected and respected. Following are some of the rights stated for discussion.
- Children have a right to dignity and self worth
The state has an obligation to ensure that all children are treated equally and are not discriminated against, irrespective of race or physical and mental ability.
- Children have a right for development and growthA child needs to engage in activities that suit the child’s age and developmental capacity. This would include the child’s educational, social, physical and emotional needs. The rights of children with disabilities have to be supported and prioritised whilst taking care of their special needs. Wherever possible, children with special needs must be included in the main stream of society and they should not be excluded.
3. Children’s rights to be heard
It is in the best interest of the child to be heard. Children must be given a chance to express their view point and be included in decision making. Every child has the right to participate and have a voice depending on his or her age, capacity and maturity level.
4. Right to appropriate involvement
Children have a right to appropriate involvement in social, cultural and religious practice. However, a cultural practice that is seen as harmful and goes against the rights of the child is not allowed. For example, children cannot be forced into marriage and they cannot be allowed to marry if they are under age. Children should have a right to play and enjoy their childhood. Marriage is a big responsibility for a child. The act also prohibits certain cultural activities. For example, genital mutilation is prohibited and virginity testing on children under 16 years of age is not allowed. A child under 16 years can only be circumcised if it is for medical or religious reasons.
It is important to note that in as much as children have rights, they also have responsibilities.
A child has a responsibility to his or her family, the community and the state. Remember children have the right to education; however the child also has the responsibility to attend school regularly and focus on his/her learning. Children are expected to obey the reasonable order or request of their parents, in order to develop into mature responsible adults, and co-operation in decisions made regarding their upbringing.
Parental rights and responsibilities
In terms of section 19 (1), the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, the biological mother , whether married or unmarried has full rights and responsibilities to her minor child .In terms of section 21 (1) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, the biological father of a child who is not married to the mother, only acquires full rights and responsibilities to the minor child if he adheres to the requirements set out in section 21 (1)( a) and 21 (1) (b).
Section 21(1) (a) – stipulates that the biological father can get parental rights and responsibilities if at the time of the child’s birth he is living with the mother in a permanent life-partnership and that
(ii) He has attempted in good faith to contribute to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period and he has contributed towards expenses with maintenance for a reasonable period.
If there is a dispute between the biological mother and the father regarding the fulfilment of contribution and maintenance, the matter must be referred for mediation to a family advocate, social worker or any other suitable qualified person.
Parental responsibilities and rights of married fathers.
The biological father of a child has full parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the child
(i) If he is married to the child’s mother, or
(ii) If he was married to the child’s mother at the time of conception
(iii) Or at the time of the child’s conception and birth
The Act says that it is important to look at the attitude that the parent has towards the child and the attitude the parent has about his or her duties as a parent.
The Act says that parents must
- Take care of their child.
- Maintain contact with the child.
- Be a guardian to the child.
- Make sure that the child has financial support. This means that both parents must provide for the child’s needs.
We can conclude that the care and protection of a child is of primary importance, likewise the Act stresses the development and empowerment of the child and the family. Family preservation and empowering families is of paramount importance so that children can be nurtured and raised within a caring family structure. Child abuse and neglect will not be tolerated and the child’s safety and protection remains a priority. The focus of the Act is to act in the best interest of the child within a cohesive family unit.
Finally I would like to end my article with a few quotes from our late President Mr Nelson Mandela.
- “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children” – this was said at the luncheon hosted by the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan at the special session of the UN for children, New York City, May 9, 2002.
2. Few things make the life of a parent more rewarding and sweet as successful children-(Letter to Amina Cachalia, written on Robben Island, 3 March 1981.)
3. Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation. (National Men’s March, March 1997.)
4.We understand and promote the notion that while children need to be guided they also have an entrenched right to be whatever they want to be and that they can achieve this only if they are given the space to dream and live out their dreams- Annual Children’s Celebration, Bloemfontein, South Africa, September 27,2003.