Top UN post for KZN academic
Durban - A Pietermaritzburg-raised has been elected onto the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Professor Ann Skelton recently returned from UN headquarters in New York, where she was chosen as one of 18 experts from around the world who monitor and report on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Speaking to the Daily News on Tuesday, Skelton said she was excited and looking forward to the challenge.
She is only the second South African to be elected after Professor Queenie Mokhuane, who was on the committee from 1996 to 2000.
Regarding her nomination by the South African government, Skelton said she was honoured.
“Over the years I have done a lot of work with the government, but what is interesting is that I have also been involved in litigation against the government, so for them to nominate me shows great maturity in our democracy,” she said.
Her “interview” process in the US involved having almost 100 one-on-one interviews with election officers from the countries which ratified the convention. All but the US ratified the convention for the protection of children.
“I had a meeting every 15 minutes, and all in all about 19 per day. On the day of the election I was present in the hall, and it took about an hour to count up all the votes before the announcement was made, so it was quite a stressful hour.”
During her term of office from next year to 2021, Skelton will work in Geneva for a month three times a year. This is an unpaid position.
She will continue with her work as director of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law.
According to a brochure prepared by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) in support of Skelton’s candidacy, Skelton was recognised in South Africa and internationally as “a foremost expert and a skilful advocate for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of children’s rights. She has been a child rights lawyer for over 25 years, and has spent her career using law as a means to advance children’s rights”.
She is UNESCO Chair in Education Law in Africa and was awarded – among others – an honorary World’s Children’s Prize, presented to her by Queen Sylvia of Sweden in 2012, a significant accolade, as this is decided through a children’s vote.
Skelton laughs as she recalls that while at Pietermaritzburg Girls School, she was a “rebellious teenager. I’m sure my teachers thought I wouldn’t amount to much.”
After matric she studied speech and drama at the then University of Natal in her home town.
“I was well into by BA (Bachelor of Arts) when I realised I’d like to study law.”
Her first job was as a state prosecutor, where she was “shocked by the way children were treated in the criminal justice system”.
She decided to do something about it, and when she joined Lawyers for Human Rights in Pietermaritzburg, she started working on projects to help children who found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
She got more involved, specialising in legal matters relating to children generally, before being appointed chair of the committee that drafted the Child Justice Act at the South African Law Reform Commission, and was a member of the committee that drafted the Children’s Act. She is still involved in policy making.
It is a busy life for the mom of two grown sons and two step-daughters who live in Durban.
Her 91-year-old father still lives in Pietermaritzburg and is very proud of his daughter fighting for the rights of children on an international platform.
As is her husband.
“My husband Peter is very supportive. He is very good about the fact that even at home I’m often sitting at the computer and he does the cooking. As a busy person, it helps to have a contented home life,” said Skelton.