Long awaited children’s commissioner on the cards for Western Cape
But tedious legislative processes have raised the ire of child rights groups who believe the appointment of a children’s commissioner is long overdue.
After taking office in 2009, Premier Helen Zille’s promise of a children’s commissioner could finally become a reality in the next year or two if there are no delays with legislative processes.
However, no funds have been made available for the commissioner’s office while the process is dependent on the Western Cape Legislature’s programme, which has yet to facilitate a public participation process.
Ammaarah Kamish, director for policy development, research and analysis in Zille’s department, said 561 individual comments were received.
“It was very substantive in nature. There were comments from Chapter 9 institutions like the Human Rights Commission, individuals and the private sector.
“Many related to the functions and duties of the commissioner. The appointment of the commissioner and the office depends on the operational requirements.
“We still need to (formally) approach the provincial treasury for funding,” she said.
Calls for a commissioner erupted last year when 66 children were killed in Cape Town.
The Commissioner for Children is duty-bound to report to the Provincial Legislature annually on measures taken by the provincial government to protect and promote the interests of children in the Western Cape.
The office has the power, as regulated by provincial legislation, to fulfil this function through monitoring, investigating, researching, educating, lobbying, advising and reporting on issues relating to children.
About R4.5 million has been proposed for the commissioner’s office of which R1.5m will be for salaries and R3m for the establishment of the office.
Kamish said the provincial government plans to finalise the draft bill at the end of the month. By next month, the provincial government aims to obtain cabinet approval so that it can be introduced in the Western Cape Legislature.
Dependent on the legislature’s time frames, the bill will be approved and the process to appoint a commissioner can begin. The appointment of the commissioner will also be dependent on time frames influenced by the legislature.
The set-up of the offices of the commissioner, from the date of publication of the act, will take six months to a year.
Jane Dairies, a representative of the Community Chest, said the situation in communities was dire.
“There is a crisis out there in many communities. Our young children are suffering and this bill needs to be published. We need to get this process on the go as soon as possible. This is really long overdue,” she said.
Patrick Solomon, from Molo Songololo, raised concerns of child participation in the public hearings. “There are substantive issues in the bill. One of those is child participation. Also, when will all this be finalised? One month for public participation is not enough,” he said.
Elizabeth Ntshuntshe, from Sikula Sonke ECD in Khayelitsha, said the bill should make bigger provision for child trauma victims. “Our children who are murdered and assaulted daily should be prioritised,” she said.
Nkosekhaya Lala, acting deputy director for strategy programme, said the whole process is dependent on the legislative arm performing its duties. “We are very serious about this matter and it is a high priority. But the timing of public hearings and publishing the bill is not up to us,” he said.
DA MPL Basil Kivedo said, looking at the crisis in schools, there was a great need for a commissioner. He also wanted to know what the commissioner was empowered to do, should any state agency or citizen refuse to hand over information relating to child issues.@JasonFelix