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Key children’s legislation comes into force in South Africa

Pretoria, 8 April…With the coming into effect of the Children’s Amendment Act and the Child Justice Act on 1 April, South Africa has taken a major step forward in aligning its children’s legislation with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

“The coming into operation of the Child Justice Act and the Children’s Amendment Act marks an important milestone in the realization of children’s rights,” says UNICEF Representative, Aida Girma.

Safeguarding children’s right to protection
The new Children’s Act emphasizes the State’s role in the provision of social services to strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for and protect children. This builds on more conventional forms of child protection legislation whereby the State would only intervene after the child has already suffered from abuse, neglect or exploitation. 

Among key provisions is a strategy for partial care of children in facilities such as crèches; prevention programmes and early intervention to support parents and caregivers who are having difficulties in raising children; measures for children who are deprived of family care through alternative care, foster care and child and youth care centers; and drop-in centers to provide basic services aimed at meeting the emotional, physical and development needs of vulnerable children.

Upholding rights when children are in conflict with the law
The Child Justice Act establishes a criminal justice system for children who are in conflict with the law or accused of offences. It will ensure that children’s basic constitutional rights and best interests are upheld when they find themselves in conflict with the law, and is mindful of the circumstances and vulnerabilities that lead children to commit offences.

Nevertheless, it holds children accused of crimes accountable for their actions and aims to prevent them from committing further offences. Only a few days after its promulgation on, the new law is already having an impact on the way minors are tried for criminal offences.

UNICEF believes that the Child Justice Act will contribute to safer communities, and encourage child perpetrators to become law-abiding and productive adults. 

A central feature of the Child Justice Act is the possibility of diverting matters involving children away from the criminal justice system. The Act also entrenches the notion of restorative justice as a sentencing option for those children who do go through Child Justice Court proceedings and raises the minimum age at which a child is considered to have “criminal capacity” from 7 to 10 years of age.

Implementation challenges
UNICEF, however, foresees a number of implementation challenges in translating this legislation into concrete actions to improve the care and protection of South Africa’s children.

Foremost among them is ensuring adequate budgetary allocations for creating and strengthening the specialised systems and structures as defined by the Act, at national and provincial levels.

In order to ensure effective implementation of this new legislation, UNICEF says it is critical that that different parts of the Government work together with non-governmental and civil society organizations within an agreed framework of intersectoral collaboration, and that a strengthened cadre of fully trained social service professionals is deployed.

Download the press release [WORD] [PDF]

Related links

UNICEF welcomes signing of Child Justice Bill into Law

UNICEF welcomes signing of the Children’s Act into Law





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