The Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities has welcomed the National Prosecuting Authority's decision to investigate the incident reported in the Sowetan (dated 31 January 2013) in which a 13 years old girl from Limpopo that was "married off" to a 57 years old sangoma.
The Committee expects that the officials involved in dropping the charges against the man to be held to account for their obvious flouting of procedures when dealing with children. The Committee calls on the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the Civilian Secretariat for Police to probe the matter.
The Committee notes that despite the circumstances which led to the parents consenting to the "marriage" taking place, there has been a violation of the child's rights. Her constitutional rights to dignity and respect, parental care, basic health care and social services, and rights to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation were clearly infringed.
The Children's Act and Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act form part of the broader legal framework for protecting children's rights and these laws should be used comprehensively to prosecute whoever violated this child's rights. It is shocking that such a marriage can happen in South Africa, which prides itself on having a human rights centred Constitution. The country is also a signatory to international treaties that have placed children's rights firmly on the world agenda.
This story reflects the significant challenges South Africa is currently faced regarding sexual offences perpetrated against children in poverty-stricken areas. During Child Protection Week last year, the government reiterated its commitment to protecting children and creating a safe and secure environment through its awareness campaign under the theme: "Working Together to Protect Children".
The Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities commends the community members who acted in the best interest of the 13-year-old child and reported the incident to the authorities. "Their actions demonstrate the kind of citizenry that South Africa needs if we are to win the battle against child abuse, or any other abuse against women and children," said Chairperson of the Committee, Mrs Dorothy Ramodibe.
This incident and many more like it highlight the need for more action to ensure that rights of children are protected, fulfilled and promoted. With impressive domestic legislation in place what remains is effective implementation. Child protection and the advancement of children's rights in this country can only be attained if the mechanisms in place are implemented effectively.
The Committee calls for a holistic approach to the advancement of children's rights and not only from a social and welfare approach. To this end, families and communities have to be actively involved. A range of programmes focusing not only on curative components but prevention and promotion are also required. Furthermore, the implementation of integrated strategies to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against children is crucial.
The Committee will monitor this situation and many others similar to it closely to ensure successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Issued by: Parliament of South Africa