Cape Town - Parliament is a step closer to concluding the processing of the Children’s Amendment Bill that seeks to extend the jurisdiction of the children's court to include care of abandoned children and also improve the administration of foster care.
This takes place as the national legislature has until November to finalise the bill if it is to meet an order issued by the North Gauteng High Court five years ago.
On Wednesday, opposition parties - DA, ACDP, EFF and Freedom Front Plus - did not support the bill when it was put up for adoption by the social development portfolio committee.
Instead, MPs from the ruling ANC moved for adoption of each of the 16 clauses and the adoption of the Children’s Amendment Bill.
The opposition parties were however in support of the report meant for consideration by the National Assembly when it re-opens next month.
The report, which detailed the process followed in processing the bill, recorded their objections, especially their unhappiness at the exclusion of a particular clause they deemed should have been considered in the set of amendments.
The bill stems from a November 2019 judgment that ordered the Minister of Social Development to prepare and introduce within 15 months in Parliament the necessary amendments to the Children’s Act to produce a comprehensive legal solution regarding the foster care system.
This was after the Centre for Child Law instituted litigation as a result of backlogs in the processing of foster care orders.
Although the department of Social Development was supposed to introduce the amendments before the end of February 2019, it only did so in the second half of 2020.
The failure to table the amendments before the deadline prompted the department to request an extension, which was granted until November later this year.
The bill seeks to amend and insert new definitions such as abandoned children, orphaned children, guardianship and social service practitioners, among others.
It also sets out what is termed as a foster care scheme, the reception of children in foster care that is managed and operated by designated child organisations.
In terms of the bill any person who has an interest in the well-being and development of a child may apply to the high court or children's court for an order granting guardianship of a child.
The two courts enjoy concurrent jurisdiction over guardianship of a child. Both courts, as well as regional courts, have jurisdiction over restriction, suspension or termination of guardianship of a child.
However, the bill now provides for social workers to investigate whether a child is in need of care and protection, and compile a report within 90 days.
“If after the investigation the designated social worker finds the child to be in need of care and protection, that child must be brought before the children’s court for a hearing upon which such court must make a determination,” reads the bill.
It also provides that a child should be placed in the care of a parent or family members, if the court finds that such person is suitable to provide for the safety and well being of the child.
In terms of the bill, not more than six children may be placed in foster care with a single person or two persons sharing a common household.
Committee chairperson Nonkosi Mvana said she was delighted that the bill was finalised ahead of submission to the National Assembly for consideration.
Mvana also said the committee had committed to ensure that there was no further requests to the court for an extension to meet the deadline.
Mvana noted that the opposition did not support the adoption of the bill, saying the matter of adoption was about numbers.