The National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces passed the new Children's Act on 15th December 2005 during last year's final sitting of Parliament. The swiftness of its final formal reading belied the slow passage of the Bill, which was nearly a decade in preparation.1 The Child Care Act, 74 of 1983, as amended from time to time, was long regarded as narrow and inadequate to the task of protecting and promoting the rights of children. Furthermore, the Act had its genesis in apartheid past, and as such was out of step with the requirements of the Constitution,2 section 28 of which is specifically devoted to the rights of children. While it is regrettable that it has taken so long for the Act to be finalised, it must be acknowledged that there was an extensive process of consultation with other national departments including Justice, Education, Health, Labour, Safety and Security, the provinces, non-governmental organisations and service providers.
The Act endeavours to provide a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to address past inequalities, to take into account current social difficulties, and to ensure a better and brighter future for our children. Moreover, South Africa has acceded to various international conventions including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on Children's Rights, the principles of which have to be incorporated into local legislation.
This Briefing Paper provides a short overview of the main features of the Act. We intend to publish two longer Research Papers in due course, the first dealing with the position of children in South Africa in general, and the second focusing on an in-depth analysis of the Children's Act.
[As this paper was being prepared for distribution it appeared that further procedural difficulties had arisen regarding the Act. It now seems that it will not be brought into operation in the near future or, at best, that only certain provisions will be. This further delay will be a source of frustration for the many organisations that have worked hard to contribute to it over the years, not to mention, of course, that it effectively deprives children of many of the rights that should long ago have been accorded them. As far as we can see, however, the delay does not affect the information contained in this paper.]
During 1997 the Minister of Welfare requested the South African Law Reform Commission to make recommendations regard the reform of legislation pertaining to children. The Commission submitted a draft of the New Bill in January 2003.
The Child Care Act of 1983 is discussed in some depth in the Research Paper on the Children of South Africa.