South African child law provides a guideline for the implementation of the rights of the child. It obligates duty-bearers and those responsible for the care, safety and protection of children to act in the best interests of children.
Government departments, their officials and workers, as well as NGOs and private individuals, all have obligations not to harm children.
And at the core of child rights law and implementation is accountability. Accountability is an instrument and a process by which the government and NGO role-players are required to implement, demonstrate, explain and justify how they have fulfilled their obligations to realise the rights of children.
Recent allegations of serious complaints of physical and sexual abuse of children; misconduct, fraud and corruption, are cause for serious concern. Headlines reported that 17 children were removed, and that the founder and head of the Al-Noor Orphanage had been arrested.
This orphanage has been plagued by scandals. In 2006, the facility was closed down by the Department of Social Development (DSD) following allegations of a social-grant scam, and children recruited and forced to wear “Islamic clothing”, and given Muslim names.
An official from the National Youth Commission was suspended for alleged links to the social-grant scam and a Home Affairs employee allegedly used contacts in the department to arrange birth certificates and identity documents for children at the orphanage.
There were also allegations of abuse, children being used in prostitution and drug pedalling a year earlier. In 2010, there were again allegations of fraud and misuse of funds meant for children to watch Fifa World Cup matches.
Various investigations were conducted. The DSD, the Hawks and the orphanage investigated the allegations and promised to bring charges against those implicated and responsible for abuse and exploitation of the children.
How, then, is it possible that after all these years, all the allegations, the removal of children, the investigations and suspensions that Al-Noor continues to operate and be plagued by serious allegations and fraud claims?
Al-Noor is a registered childcare and youth facility for orphaned children. The government and NGO-based social workers refer children to its facility. It therefore must comply with the laws and policy guidelines for childcare centres; and monitoring and reporting guidelines of funders. Why is this continuing? Is it a case where all duty-bearers in fulfilling the rights of the child have failed these children, those orphaned and poor?
Has the DSD failed to monitor, evaluate and hold Al-Noor to account? Why hasn’t anyone been prosecuted and sentenced by now? Were these allegations false and unfounded?
There are so many unanswered questions and all parties seem to have failed to report on the outcomes of their inquiries and interventions to the media and public. We need to know what was done over the years to address these allegations and safeguard the children at Al-Noor.
Or is it because there is a lack of accountability, monitoring and compliance by the role-players involved? The DSD, Hawks and Al-Noor are accountable to the children. They have a duty to make sure children are respected, protected and not harmed. That is what they are supposed to do, and if they do not or cannot; then the children and their representatives must have some recourse; and hold them to account.
Perhaps it’s time for an independent monitoring body to investigate these allegations, identify any offences that were committed; and assess whether Al-Noor is fit to care for orphaned and vulnerable children.
The investigation must review the responses and efforts by the DSD and the Hawks over the years, and action taken to safeguard affected children.
Once appointed, the Western Cape Commissioner for Children will provide another mechanism for child rights accountability, specifically for children in the Western Cape.
The commissioner will be able to promote, monitor and report on the implementation of children’s rights and the violation of their rights.
The commissioner will also receive and investigate complaints, as well as sanction those who fail to respond, provide information, allow access or implement its recommendations.
The rapid finalisation and proclamation of the Western Cape Commissioner for Children’s Act of 2019 is urgent.
The act also provides for the involvement of children in the appointment and work of the commissioner. All children in public and private schools and care facilities must be informed, encouraged and supported to report when their rights are violated. This improves accountability.
Monitoring and reporting on progress made in implementing children’s rights is an important part of holding duty-bearers accountable and help to remove barriers to service provision and the safeguarding of children.
* Solomons is the director of Molo Songololo
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.