The lives of South Africa’s children has not improved over the years, and they still face many challenges.
Today (20 November) is Universal Children’s Day, marked this day every year to commemorate the adoption by the UN of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989.
This week, a coalition of civil society organisations – the South African Alternate Report Coalition – comprising 52 authors from 42 different organisations, submitted a report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) on the status of children’s lives in South Africa. While recognising the progress that has been made regarding children’s rights, the Report finds that childhood in South Africa is beset with numerous challenges and makes a series of recommendations toward addressing these.
The UNCRC is the most-ratified human rights treaty in history, with only one UN member-state having failed to do this – the US. South Africa deposited its ratification of the UNCRC in Geneva in 1996. Ratification of any international human rights treaty obliges states to:
* Domesticate the provisions of the treaty into national legislation; and
* Report regularly on progress towards the realisation of the rights in the treaty to the relevant treaty body; in the case of the UNCRC, this is the UNCROC.
The Country Report is government’s opportunity to highlight its accomplishments with regard to protecting and respecting children’s rights, and to demonstrate how and to what extent it has fulfilled its obligations.
Once the government has prepared its Country Report, civil society organisations in that country can prepare one or more Alternate Report(s), which is/are also submitted to the UNCROC.
Alternate Reports, on the other hand, provide an opportunity for people working on the ground to confirm or disagree with the Country Report, and to draw to the UNCROC’s attention gaps in service delivery, systemic failure and rights violations within the country which are impacting negatively on children.
The South African government submitted its Initial Country Report timeously. However it did not prioritise subsequent reports and only submitted the second, third and fourth Periodic Reports (which were due in 2003, 2008 and 2013 respectively) in January 2015. Civil society organisations have criticised the delay; while the belated commitment to reporting is recognised, Government is urged to comply with its reporting obligations in future.
The Alternate Report was developed in a consultative process which drew on the experience and expertise of child rights practitioners across the full spectrum: from the law and the criminal justice system, to education, health, social protection and service delivery.
The Report finds that South Africa’s status as a middle income country has not translated into improvements in the lives of the majority of children. It also finds that profound income and social inequality, linked to weak political leadership to realise children’s rights lies behind this picture. Thus while the South African Government has established a robust legal framework, this has not been adequately supported by institutional arrangements, resourcing, planning, monitoring or accountability systems to ensure that they translate into changes in the lives of children who’ve been marginalised.
Issues of major concern where:
* High levels of corruption and the absence of an appropriate framework for the proper monitoring of and accountability for children’s rights;
* The multiple layers of challenge faced by marginalised and excluded children (black children; children living in poverty; children with disabilities; migrant children; rural children; orphaned children; children living and working on the street; children in conflict with the law; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) children;
* The very high levels of physical and sexual violence against children, with among the highest rates globally of sexual assault against children and child homicide;
* The numerous failures within the child protection and child justice systems to adequately protect children against violence, abuse and neglect, or respond appropriately when these have happened to children;
* The inequitable access to health, education and social services; and
* Numerous serious failures in the delivery of the right to a basic education.