Pretoria - The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has warned against calls to make public the national register for sex offenders.
It is believed that making the register public would curb sexual offences against children, but according to the department, this would fuel mob justice against perpetrators.
The department was responding to a campaign called #unmaskthemonsters launched by a civil rights organisation, Action Society, last month.
The group’s spokesperson, Dr Rineé Pretorius, said the idea behind the campaign was to pressure the government to declare child pornography a priority crime and request double life sentences for offenders found guilty of the possession or production of child pornography.
She urged all South Africans to rally behind the campaign by demanding that government create legislation to reduce and ultimately eradicate the prevalence of child pornography.
Pretorius said the campaign was also aimed at getting the national register for sex offenders made available to the public.
Department spokesperson Steve Mahlangu said publicising the register could not be done without violating the right to privacy of an individual, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
“There are also dangers of the register being used unjustifiably to fuel acts of mob justice against perpetrators. This is among a number of issues that make publicising the register a contentious and complicated discussion,” Mahlangu said. He said the purpose of the register was to prevent recidivism by convicted sex offenders
“We believe that the continued usage of the register will go a long way in protecting the public, especially children and persons at high risk of sexual offences, such as persons with mental disabilities.”
Mahlangu added that the register gives employers in the public or private sectors – such as schools, crèches and hospitals – “the right to check that the person being hired is fit to work with children or mentally disabled people. This is the current scope of its accessibility as per its purpose to protect the public”.
The register was established by an Act of Parliament in 2007 to record the names of people found guilty of sexual offences against children and mentally disabled people.
Pretorius said South Africa could take a leaf out of Germany's book, after authorities there shut down a massive child pornography network this week.
Director at Media Monitoring Africa William Bird said: “There doesn’t seem to be much clear evidence that a publicising sex offender list actually helps decide instances of child abuse.
“It isn’t a matter of not enough laws, but enough resources for our SAPS and the board to combat these issues specifically, and then to help educate the public,” Bird said.
The Film and Publication Board was unable to comment because it was unclear which child porn-related laws Action Society considered inadequate, and by late yesterday attempts to get statistics from the Centre for Child Law had proved futile.