Durban - Mothers desperately seeking maintenance from their children’s absent fathers, and unable to afford data, will have access to a digital portal to make applications to the courts.
This is one of the features of Durban’s new specialist family court, opened yesterday at the new Point Branch Court by Justice, Constitutional Development and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola.
Another feature is its respite room.
“It’s heart-warming and caring that there is a place where victims can bury their heads (to gather their thoughts) and return to court without feeling intimidated,” he said, referring to the facility.
It’s the first such court in the country, dealing with integrated services including those relating to domestic violence, maintenance, the children’s court and protection from harassment, among others. The establishment of other such courts in other centres is expected to follow.
Department of Justice and Constitutional Development regional head Pat Moodley said at yesterday’s opening that, with new, progressive family legislation having been introduced over the years, Durban Magistrate’s Court had become congested.
Project co-ordinator dealing with gender-based violence and human trafficking at the Umgeni Community Empowerment Centre, Jennifer Fisher, called the establishment of the specialist family court “refreshing”.
She said her work took her to the coalface, such as schools where there was bullying and other problems.
“The teachers are not equipped to deal with that behaviour. These children become isolated and are kicked out of school. Society doesn't want them and they end up what we call ‘paras’. And they come from gender-based violence.”
At an interactive stakeholders’ discussion after the opening function, Fisher addressed her concern that many mothers in need were not digitally literate. Department of Justice senior legal administration officer Josephine Peta assured her that clerks would always be on hand to help.
Peta added that new legislation made it possible for the department to track maintenance defaulters and investigate their ability to pay.
“Sometimes they are signatories to bank accounts of companies with different names to their own. We are going after them and asking financial institutions and banks to freeze such accounts pending the application of maintenance payments.
“We’ll track and trace you, and bring you to book,” she said, echoing Lamola.
He said it was important for South Africans to protect the Constitution and that it was in the interest of the child that court decisions were respected by all, in spite of someone’s standing in society.
“If we don’t ensure that the rule of law is protected, defended and upheld, we shall have anarchy where the implementation of the rule of law has to be negotiated with thugs and criminals.”
Commenting on the establishment of the court, acting director of Childline KZN Adeshini Naicker said: “It is definitely a step in the right direction. The waiting periods to go on trial will now be shorter, hence convictions will be quicker.
“Domestic and gender-based violence is rife in KZN. This advancement should decrease the statistics.”
She added that the specific family court environment would also be conducive to the emotional wellbeing of children.
The Independent on Saturday