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NGO lauds adoption of DNA bill

Crime & Courts

Parliament, Cape Town - The adoption of the DNA bill by MPs on Tuesday was a big step towards removing dangerous criminals from South Africa's streets, the DNA Project said.

MPs turned to the back of the committee room as one woman started clapping excitedly when police portfolio committee chair Annelize van Wyk announced the bill was approved.

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That woman was DNA Project director Vanessa Lynch, who has been fighting for the promulgation of a law governing the handling of DNA samples from crime scenes for the past nine years.

Her journey to push for such a law to be passed began in 2004.

“My father was murdered and it was the loss of DNA evidence that led to the perpetrators never being brought to book or even identified, and it's through the loss of DNA evidence that I embarked on this journey,” Lynch said.

She hoped the enactment of the bill would follow soon.

“It's a massive step and I really do think it's a wonderful opportunity for South Africa to really fight crime in a way which is smart and which has shown throughout the world to be effective,” Lynch said.

If the bill was enacted, criminals or suspected criminals would be compelled to provide police with a DNA sample. The samples would then be destroyed, but the DNA profiles would be stored on a database.

Samples are taken - by specially-trained police officers - using a cotton-tipped swab rubbed against the inner cheek. Epithelial (cheek) cells adhere to the swab.

Criminals in the country's jails would be compelled to provide such DNA samples. DNA would also be taken from arrested and charged people, and from volunteers, to eliminate them as suspects in a crime. People could also volunteer to provide DNA samples for help in identifying bodies or missing people.

“It will have an effect on our serial offenders. We'll be able to identify them at an earlier stage of their criminal careers,” Lynch said.

It was not a “silver bullet”, but needed to be coupled with good investigative work and a capable criminal justice system, she said.

“We can't let the minority spoil it for the majority and the criminals are the minority, the corrupt police are the minority,” she said.

“There's some good people out there, there's motivation, there's a good framework, and with the support of the public let's try to do something positive.”

The bill would also help those who could not speak for themselves, especially children.

“When you have a four-month-old child being raped and you collect DNA evidence, you can identify the perpetrator through DNA on a database because these guys are doing it repeatedly. That's why I think it's so valuable in a country where we need this kind of objective evidence.”

Sapa

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