Professor Ann Skelton, the director of the Centre for Child Law. File picture: Giyani Baloi

Kimberley -

The Northern Cape High Court has ordered the provincial Department of Social Development to investigate the living conditions of the children who are undergoing rehabilitation for substance abuse at the Noupoort Christian Care Centre (NCCC) after allegations of abuse and torture surfaced.

The allegations were made by the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law (CCL), which was appointed by the court to investigate what impact the eviction of the NCCC from Transnet property in Noupoort would have on the children.

Transnet Limited had approached the Northern Cape High Court to apply for an order to evict NCCC from its properties in Noupoort.

The report, which was compiled after the CCL personnel visited the NCCC premises to interview the children, recommended that “all the children who are currently undergoing the (rehabilitation) programme may be in need of care and protection and should potentially be moved from NCCC irrespective of whether the NCCC is evicted from the Transnet’s properties”.

The CCL team was led by the director of the centre, Professor Ann Skelton, who has a doctoral degree in child law and over 25 years of experience in human rights and child rights work.

The other two members of the CCL team that went to Noupoort were lawyers Karabo Ngidi and Carina du Toit who both have master’s degrees in child law and a decade’s experience each.

On Friday, the Northern Cape High Court Acting Judge MC Mamosebo ordered the provincial Department of Social Development to investigate the allegations made by the CCL in relation to the situation at NCCC.

The spokesman for the department, Lesego Pule, said on Sunday that, although the department had not yet received the court order, it would investigate the allegations.

Although the NCCC is a substance abuse rehabilitation centre which is operated according to the fundamentals of Christianity, the 30-page report from the CCL paints a horrific picture of how children who are battling with substance abuse are being abused and tortured by those who are tasked to care for them at the NCCC.

“The children are subjected to harsh treatment and disciplinary/punishment measures while enrolled in the NCCC programme and resident on the premises of the NCCC. (There are various levels of punishment) and the third level of punishment is referred to as Correctional Intervention (CI),” the report states.

“This can occur as a result of collecting too many slips (slips are given to children each time they make an infringement), or one infraction can cause a child to be sentenced to CI level of punishment.

“Such sentences are generally for 21 days, but can be extended if there is non-compliance while in CI. While in CI there is no contact with any person outside of the NCCC. The CCL team saw several examples of the CI sentences on all of the children’s files.

“The team was deeply concerned to observe that one girl was sentenced to 21 days in CI for cutting herself with a broken glass. Another was sentenced to the same period for wetting her bed. It is clear that these girls are showing obvious signs of psychological harm and yet instead of receiving a therapeutic response, they received a punitive one,” the CCL report reads.

The report adds that it was concerning that while children were subjected to CI level of punishment, they (children) did not have access to education at all and even after they are released from CI they did not automatically move back into the school.

The CCL report also makes allegations that children were also being strip-searched during the CI.

“Punishment (of the children) involves cleaning with toothbrushes while bending, being made to use a mixture made of H2H, bleach and pine cleaning gel, which causes their hands and bare feet to become sore and cracked. They also have insufficient clothing and bedding in the cold weather with the environment being wet and cold. They are being made to engage in long periods of physical exercise and are punished further if they fail. They also have insufficient sleep. Some complained of being placed in a solitary cell whilst in CI, as extra punishment” the CCL report continues.

The CCL added that it accepted that the allegations are unverified but “the fact that so many children made these allegations using similar terminology, lean in favour of their veracity”.

The CCL report also adds that many of the people dealing directly with the children are former drug addicts who are in the advanced stages of their own rehabilitation programmes.

“There is a dearth of professional caregivers working directly with the children.”

The CCL report also points to attempts by the NCCC management of refusing to discharge children from the centre, even when these children feel that they have been rehabilitated.

“The children also complained that although adults can discharge themselves from the NCCC, children cannot do this because their parents have placed them there. Perusal of files confirmed this – where a father who wished to have his daughter discharged was threatened with the opening of a Children’s Court process.

“Apart from the consultation with the children, the CCL team was able to peruse each child’s individual file and some concerning issues were noted. Parents sign a form that is aimed at transferring their guardianship over their children to the NCCC for the period that the child is resident with the NCCC and when children ran away from the NCCC, the police are called to apprehend the children and put them back in the NCCC’s care. It is with this factual background in mind we now turn to the legal provisions that dictate how children in residential programmes should be treated in order to measure whether the NCCC conforms with the set standard and effect thereof on the position of the children” the report adds.

The CCL team conducted its investigation at NCCC on June 4, 2014, and the team conducted one-on-one consultations with 19 children aged between 16 and 17.

“All the children interviewed were 16 or 17 years old, and most had been in age-appropriate education prior to being sent to NCCC by their parents. Of the children that we interviewed, 10 were not attending school, although all of them intend to complete their schooling. Some were not attending school because their parents have not paid the R20 000 extra for education. However, some were not attending school because of a disciplinary procedure called correctional intervention. In some instances, children were missing an entire year of education while they are on the programme,” the report added.

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