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Date: 20 Nov 2008
Title: Child Justice Bill passed in National Assembly
By Edwin Tshivhidzo, tel: (012) 314-2454
Cape Town - The National Assembly on Thursday passed the long-awaited Child Justice Bill which has been sent to President Kgalema Motlanthe for approval.
The Bill deals with children under the age of 18 years in conflict with the law. Under South African law, persons under the age of 18 years are considered minors.
If signed into law, the new Bill would make provision for a separate justice system for children, with a clear set of guidelines and procedures that are easily understandable and consonant with South Africa's constitutional and international obligations.
While retaining most features of the present criminal justice process, the Bill also introduces a number of new concepts and procedures. Children below the age of 10 years should not be prosecuted, and those between the ages of 10 and 14 are presumed to lack criminal capacity.
However, the prosecution can bring evidence to show that a particular child has criminal capacity.
The Bill seeks to create a balance between protecting the accused child's rights as a child and an individual and ensuring that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the community are respected and protected.
While, ten years is still considered to be a low age according to world standards, the presumption of lack of capacity will help to protect children who are immature.
The Bill takes cogniscance of the fact that when dealing with child offenders one is dealing with human beings that are not yet fully developed. It also understands that adolescence is a time for testing limits, and that although many children will commit offences during their teens, most will grow up to be law abiding citizens.
The Child Justice Bill aims to give such children a chance to put right what they have done through diversion, which means that they do not get criminal records.
According to the Bill, even when children commit serious crimes, their age is a mitigating factor when it comes to sentence, and there is a need for a wide range of sentencing options.
The procedure set up by the Bill provides an opportunity to criminal justice professionals to deal with each case on an individual basis. These professionals have the discretion to deal with different cases and children differently, as the facts and circumstances dictate.
The Bill limits the detention of children in prison awaiting trial through the application of a schedule of offences for which children may be detained.
The Child Justice Alliance has welcomed the legislature, saying it recognises the need for a new justice system for children in conflict with the law, and is confident that the new legislation will support South Africa's ongoing efforts to prevent crime. - BuaNews