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Cape Town - Riot shields with the power to dispense an electric charge were allegedly used to shock children at the Bosasa Horizon Children’s Centre in Eerste River, says a claim that has been referred to the Human Rights Commission for investigation.
The centre is home to children under the age of 18 who are awaiting trial for criminal charges.
After a period of unrest and rioting at the centre in August, SAPS and correctional services forces were brought in to restore order. Testimonies from a social worker and one of the boys say they used electrified riot shields to shock children behaving violently into submission.
An allegation has been made that the riot equipment was left at the facility and used by staff to punish the children.
Two original complaints were heard by the Children’s Court - one from the social worker and one from a boy who was allegedly assaulted by the riot police. A further report was lodged by a boy who witnessed another child being shocked last month.
These testimonies may still come under investigation by the Human Rights Commission.
Helen Alman, chief magistrate at the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court, said correctional services were legally allowed to carry riot equipment which can non-lethally incapacitate a person. However, the equipment cannot be used on children.
“There’s no provision for that in any law. It is authorised for use only in prisons, and children’s centres are not prisons.”
Alman took the matter up with the Department of Social Development, but found the response from the acting department head Robert Macdonald to be inadequate. “I was not satisfied with the explanation given to me, which is why I referred (the issue) to the Human Rights Commission.”
When community activist Colin Arendse heard about the incident, he took it up with Premier Helen Zille, minister of social development Bathabile Dlamini, and the media.
“All indications were that it was going to be covered up,” he said. “My view is that there should be a full investigation. The centre should be closed down. These children may not be angels, but they still have rights.”
Dr Azeem Badroodien, of the Education Policy Studies Department at Stellenbosch University, was informed of the allegations by the Children’s Court. Badroodien is the chairman of the school governing body at Ottery Youth and Education Centre, where two Horizon boys were sent after the court was concerned about abuses at the centre.
This is despite an agreement that no more boys should be sent to the dilapidated Ottery centre as it is to be shut down at the end of the year.
“To us that’s an indication of how concerned (the court) is about what’s happening at Horizon,” Badroodien said.
He also said that the riot equipment used against the children was not taken away by the police and correctional services officers when the unrest died down. “The riot police used shock treatment, then they left the shock treatment equipment at the facility. The facility continued to use it against the boys…“
In an e-mail made available to the Cape Argus, Macdonald said the equipment had been removed from the site. Repeated attempts to contact the Department of Social Development proved unsuccessful.
Correctional Services regional commissioner Delekile Klaas said although the facility was under the department of social development, they had gone to the facility to train the staff.
“All we did was train the officials on how to handle situations. The training is the standard training but we make sure the children are not treated the same as adults detainees.”
Asked about riot shields used to shock children, Klaas said: “We do not have those things, so we don’t use them and we are sure the cops wouldn’t use it unless the facility was in danger.”
Police spokesman captain FC van Wyk said he was unable to comment as he did not have information on the incident. - Additional reporting by Yolisa Tswanya
Cadet News Agency