The South African delegation that met with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRoC) in Geneva, Switzerland, this week (19-20 September 2016) did not have an easy ride as the Committee members grilled them on a range of issues related to children’s rights in the country.
The delegation managed to report on some positive steps it has taken to improve the situation of children in South Africa. They reported on the increased access to education and to early childhood development programmes.
That progress has been recognised by the Alternate Report Coalition-Children’s Rights South Africa (ARC-CRSA). The coalition noted the advances the South African government has made towards realising child rights; through access to a modest child support grant, increased provision of early childhood development services, and a marked reduction in child mortality through the Prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMCTC) of HIV programme for pregnant women.
However, the delegation struggled to provide good answers about the systemic challenges that children face and, in response to the no-holds barred questions from UNCRoC, did not give a true reflection of the situation, said ARC-CRSA. The coalition, a civil society alliance driven by 11 leading organisations on children’s rights in the country, compiled one of South Africa’s shadow reports that was presented to the UNCRoC in February 2016, addressing its concerns over child rights in South Africa.
These shadow reports serve as civil society’s response to the Country Reports that governments are required to submit every five years under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
“The delegation mostly referred to piece-meal initiatives and avoided addressing whether government’s efforts are dealing with the deeper structural issues or what the impact has been of these initiatives,” says Sam Waterhouse of the Dullah Omar Institute at University of the Western Cape. “For example, on this issue of violence against children, the government highlighted the fact that there is a call centre for children. But this does not really tell us anything about whether the systems are working.
“The government did not talk about the Child Death Review Pilot Project or its findings that children are dying due to a failing system, and what they plan to do reduce the number of children dying as a result of abuse.”
The Geneva meeting formed part of the process that was started when South Africa submitted its Country Report in 2014 – 12 years after it was first due in 2002. (This combined report covers the period 1998 to 2013.) The South African delegation included members of the national Department of Social Development, the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development and South Africa’s Permanent Mission in Geneva.
The ARC-CRSA expressed its concerned that the delegation included no representatives from either the Department of Basic Education or the Department of Health, both of which are key departments for realising children’s rights.
The South African delegation admitted that the state is struggling with gathering and analysing data on the realities facing children in South Africa, the ARC-CRSA reported. But this has serious knock-on effects for evidence-based planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation of programmes and measures to address those realities, and the delegation asked the committee for assistance in this regard.
The delegation was also quizzed by the committee on the honesty of the assurance that state budget cuts would have no impact on services to children.
The ARC-CRSA was further concerned by the delegation’s explanation to UNCRoC that 48% of cases of sexual violence against children result in conviction. In reality, said the ARC-CRSA, this number does not reflect the conviction rate for all cases reported to police, or the cases that are not reported to police (only one in 10 such offences are actually reported, studies suggest), or the many cases that never reach the courts. In truth, that 48% is in fact closer to 7%, the alliance states.
The South African coalition was pleased at how often the committee’s questions reflected concerns that the ARC-CRSA had highlighted in its report, says Steffi Röhrs, senior researcher with the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town. “The committee has not only taken on board the issues that civil society had raised, but they’ve also taken those issues very seriously. And they asked critical questions.”