Picture: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke/Pixabay

Pretoria - The high court in Johannesburg will on Thursday hear arguments on whether children who are found in possession of cannabis or used the drug - thus contravening the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act -  should be criminally prosecuted.

The Centre for Child Law will give its input as “a friend of the court”.

The Centre had earlier strongly rejected media reports that it supports the idea that children should be allowed to smoke cannabis. It rather wanted a way to help these children.

Lawyer Lithalethemba Stwayi said the centre was invited by the court to make submissions regarding the treatment of children who smoke cannabis.

The issue arose when a number of children had been arrested and brought before the Child Justice Court in Krugersdorp. They were tested positive for the use of cannabis.

In each case the child received a diversion order to undergo certain programmes.

These children failed to comply with the order and, as a consequence, were forced to stay at a youth care centre operated by African Global Operations (formerly Bosasa), the controversial company that provides prison services to the government. The question then arose whether the justice system was the correct forum to deal with such children.

The centre will argue that it is not. It will argue that a more appropriate approach would be to deal with the child under the Children’s Act or the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act.

Stwayi said emphasis should rather be placed on treating children for drug dependency, rather than criminalising, incarcerating and punishing them, especially when adults in the same position are treated differently.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, in his written submissions to the court, confirms that there is indisputable evidence that arresting children for the use of cannabis, has a negative effect on them. The minister is of the view that the best interest of the child principle requires that a child orientated approach should be followed to deal with their drug abuse.

Such an approach may  include drug awareness and educational programmes, drug prevention programmes, treatment and rehabilitation.

Stwayi said the centre is pleased by the stance taken by the minister as it aims to assist children, rather than to punish them.

She stressed that the centre is not supporting the use of cannabis by children, but it is rather trying to find a way to deal with their problems outside the criminal justice system.

“The aim of this approach is to avoid children being exposed to the brutalising effect of the criminal justice system that does not have the necessary mechanisms to properly deal with cannabis dependency,” she said.

Pretoria News