Vulnerable children at Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa Centre in Pretoria reportedly have no shoes or winter clothes.
Pretoria - Legal action is looming against the Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa Centre in Soshanguve following a report by The Sunday Independent into children’s living conditions.

The Centre for Child Law (CCL) has expressed concern over the conditions reported in last week’s edition.

“The article describes the dire situation that the children find themselves in. The children are removed from their caregivers in terms of a Children’s Court order and are placed in these Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs) because they are in need of care and protection,” attorney Lithalethemba Stwayi said.

She said when children are removed from their caregivers there is a presumption that the CYCCs will provide the children with a stable and protected environment for the children to be able to develop outside of the family home, but in this situation the children are suffering.

“This is not the first CYCC to have substandard care; the CCL has in the past intervened on behalf of children who were in CYCCs with similar or worse problems,” Stwayi added.

Workers at the centre told the paper that there was serious mismanagement of funds following the alleged disappearance of R7m.

The money, which comes from Sassa, was meant to take care of the needs of orphans, abandoned, abused and neglected children. 

According to the workers, some of the children have been going to school without shoes, and have been forced to share a packet of Marie biscuits as their lunch.

“The procurement process here is very corrupt. They claim they bought clothes to the value of R300 000, which were stolen by us, which is not true. I can tell you that the children have no winter clothes or proper school uniforms,” said one employee.

The workers said that they had a meeting this past week where it was revealed that R7m had gone missing.

“The bottles for small babies are washed with pine gel because we don’t have dish-washing liquid. We don’t have latex gloves to change babies' nappies which we have to borrow from other smaller centres nearby,” said the source.

The safety of the children was also a talking point with many asking for the refurbishment of dilapidated buildings and the installation of perimeter fences around the centre.

Stwayi also raised concerns about safety, indicating that on the premises of the CYCC, there was also a secure care child facility, the Soshanguve Secure Care Centre, which housed children who had been placed there by the child justice system after they had committed offences.

Stwayi revealed in 2016 that major problems were uncovered regarding the well-being of the children at the CYCC.

“The Centre for Child Law managed to get a court-sanctioned Developmental Quality Assurance undertaken at the CYCC to evaluate the extent and seriousness of the problems (which) related to the care of the children, and the findings of the report were very alarming,” she said.

"The CCL's interest in the matter stems from the fact that they have a client at the centre and are worried about her well-being following our report.

“The centre currently has a case in the high court in Pretoria, where our client, an orphaned child, was placed at the CYCC.

"In the same case, we also asked for an intersectoral policy from the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health as well as the Department of Basic Education, which should guide the departments on how these centres should be run in order to deliver on their constitutional and statutory mandate for the protection of vulnerable children,” she said.

The CCL is involved in an International Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty, where research is being undertaken in relation to the different settings where children are in facilities.

The focus is on the conditions of the facilities, the treatment of children by those tasked to care for them and the evaluation of whether the rights of children are protected in such facilities.

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Sunday Independent