On May 31, about 40 NGOs from across the province along with the government will attend a meeting to discuss the implications of the act, which provides for the appointment of a commissioner for children in the province.
Once established, the Western Cape commissioner for children must monitor, investigate, research, educate, lobby, advise and report on matters pertaining to children.
Children’s rights organisation Molo Songololo director Patric Solomons described it as a “historic new law” and called for its swift implementation.
The local constitution states that the Western Cape government (WCG) must appoint a commissioner for children to assist in protecting and promoting the interests of children in the province, particularly in respect of health services, education, welfare services, recreation, amenities and sport.
“We are really very happy that this got assented. This is indeed a breakthrough after fighting this fight for about 20 years,” Solomons said.
“We need a viable child rights mechanism for child protection in the province and we are planning for a national commissioner as well. This process will not happen overnight, but we are glad that we are one step closer.”
The NGO stepped up their lobbying for the appointment of a commissioner about two years ago when the province was shocked by a spate of child murders.
The names of Courtney Pieters, Stacha Arendse and Renee Roman dominated headlines after they were brutally raped and murdered.
The 40 NGO coalition, including Molo Songololo, the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture and Ilitha La Bantu, said: “Children are exposed to and traumatised by high levels of abuse, crime and violence that impact negatively on their survival.
“Rates of child sexual assault, child rape and child murder remain the highest in the country. About 60% of children in the province live in poor families and communities with high levels of unemployment, low wages, lack of services, housing and facilities. They also experience high levels of school drop-out, substance abuse, early sexual debut and parenthood, and dysfunction.”
For the Premier’s office, Ammaarah Kamish said there is no finalised timeline for implementation of the act yet.
In 2017, Premier Helen Zille said she would only consider establishing a commission after an expert investigation of at least six cases.
Zille’s spokesperson, Ewald Botha, yesterday said: “Premier Zille received the Western Cape Commissioner for Children Act (2019) for assent and signed it accordingly.
“The department of the premier was instrumental in the legislative process.”
According to the act, the premier will appoint a commissioner who will serve for five years. To stand fit for the position as commissioner, the appointed person must have proven specialised knowledge of public policy, human rights or issues affecting children.
A crucial feature of a commissioner for children is the guarantee of independence. The commissioner must be able to operate without any fear, favour, influence, discrimination, prejudice and political or other interference.
The new act states that the Western Cape commissioner for children is duty-bound to report to provincial parliament annually on measures taken by the WCG to protect and promote the interests of children in the Western Cape.
“The way forward for us now is to continue to engage with the process and to ensure that the new law gets implemented as soon as possible,” the NGOs said.