Victim Empowerment Programme, ukuthwala: Departmental briefings
National Directory on services for Victims of Violence and Crime (e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Department of Social Development briefed the Committee on the Victim Empowerment Programme, which was a collaborative programme based on strong partnerships with government, civil society organisations, volunteers, business, academics and research institutions. It focused on a victim centred, restorative justice approach to crime and aimed at developing knowledge of victim issues, strengthening resources, addressing the needs of victims, stimulating volunteer participation, and prevention of secondary victimisation. There were currently 96 safe shelters in five provinces of South Africa to protect, care for and support victims of crime and violence, and the Department was attempting to set up more in other provinces. The Department outlined a programme for which the European Union Office on Drugs and Crime had provided funding, and set out the key areas of support. The Department noted that the challenges to the programmes included a lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, gaps which meant that victims were not always getting the type of services they deserved, inadequate facilities for victims of crime and the broad geographic spread of such facilities, high staff turnover in provinces, resulting in skills moving away from the Department and lack of a strong communication and marketing strategy. However, efforts were being made to strengthen the programmes, and there was a need to ensure a specific budget to fund non governmental organisations. The Department was undertaking feasibility studies into possible legislation, particularly since there was a need to legislate around the shelters and set up proper accreditation for them.
Members asked about the plans to set up One Stop Centres in other provinces, what strategies were in place for recruitment and to address staff shortages and retention, what was being done to focus on rural areas, and the reasons why the Department was still at the planning stage. The Department was asked about its cooperation with the Department of Human Settlements in relation to transitional homes for abused women, the position of the Department of Education in the Cluster, and why it was not more involved. Members commented that many women would not pursue cases because they were unwilling to give evidence in open court, and asked whether this could be addressed by setting aside mainstream courts specifically for sexual offences at certain times. Members suggested that the Department must improve its communication strategy, particularly in the rural areas, and asked about rehabilitation centres for the youth.
The Department then described the practice of ukuthwala, or child abduction and forced marriages, which had originated from Xhosa customs of arranged marriages, although it was stressed that when the Minister and House of Traditional Leaders had met with traditional leaders in the area they had stressed that this practice had not and should not involve children. The current practice was being applied to girls between 12 and 15 years old. This directly and indirectly impacted upon their development, education, life skills, and risk of exposure to early pregnancy and HIV and Aids. It was regarded as gender based violence. The Department had strategies for early intervention, where children were identified as being vulnerable or at risk of harm or removal into alternate care. These prevention and early intervention programmes tried to focus on retaining the family unit, developing appropriate parenting skills and provision of psychological and therapeutic services for the children, as well as preventing future neglect, exploitation or abuse. However, the challenges included the fact that many arrangements, being made with parental consent, were not reported. The Department conceded that there was probably a need to legislate for this issue.
Members asked what the attitudes of the amakhosi and local communities were, whether the practice extended beyond the Eastern Cape, questioned the challenges in attempting to reintegrate the child to the family, whether they were able to continue their education, whether it was likely that there were still more young girls who had not managed to report the matter, and stressed that this practice was seen by many families as a way to alleviate their own poverty. Members asked how the lack of social workers impacted on the programmes that the Department was trying to run, whether there was any information on infant mortality rates of babies born to young mothers, and whether the male or the parents would be criminally charged for participating in uthukwala. The Committee agreed that it would like to visit the Eastern Cape in conjunction with the Minister and engage with the MEC to see how the issues were being addressed.
Department of Social Development (DSD) briefing on Victim Empowerment Programme
Ms Conny Nxumalo, Chief Director: Families and Social Crime Prevention, Department of Social Development, showed a DVD on the Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) which was created for the tenth anniversary of its introduction.
The Victim Empowerment Programme was run under the auspices of the Department of Social Development, based on strong partnerships with government, civil society organisations, volunteers, business, academics and research institutions. It focused on a victim centred, restorative justice approach to crime and strove towards developing knowledge of victim issues, strengthening resources, addressing the needs of victims, stimulating volunteer participation; and prevention of secondary victimisation.
The Department had some core objectives in relation to the VEP. Firstly, it created policy and legislation to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate integrated intersectoral programmes and services in the Victim Empowerment (VE) sector. It aimed to establish and sustain effective VEP governance and management systems within government at all levels. All service delivery was aimed at enhancing the scope and quality of service to victims of crime and violence, especially in rural areas. The Department would undertake training in victim empowerment and trauma support, and capacity building of VEP service providers in government and the civil society sector. Finally it would monitor and evaluate the impact of VEP projects on victims, and the development of database empowerment-related research norms, standards and practice guidelines.
The priority target groups were women and children, people with disabilities and older persons, youth (including teenage girls), men and boys, victims of human trafficking, victims of sexual assault and rape, and victims of domestic violence.
The key stakeholders were the Department of Social Development, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, National Prosecuting Authority, Department of Health, Department of Correctional Services, Department of Education, South African Police Services, and Civil Society organisations. The role of each was explained. She then noted that the main difference between a Thuthuzela Centre and a One Stop Centre was the Thuthuzela Centres dealt only with sexual offences and related matters, whereas the One Stop Centres were broader than that.
She stressed the importance of civil society organisations as a very strong component of VEP, since most of the services were provided by them. Their major role was advocacy for vulnerable groups and partnerships with government in providing services. The Department of Education, although a key department, had not been very active over the past year.
Ms Nxumalo highlighted the achievements. The policy and legislative framework were in place, but implementation of the Victims’ Charter needed to be strengthened. This week was Victims’ Rights Week.
The Domestic Violence Act was being implemented and the relevant departments were already identifying gaps in it. The Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act was in operation. There was a strategy for shelters for victims of domestic violence in South Africa, and minimum standards for service delivery. There had been development of a strategy for engagement of men and boys in prevention of gender based violence. A resources directory and guidelines on other services had been compiled. Five One-Stop Centres had been established in Mpumalanga, Northwest, Western Cape and Northern Cape. Nineteen civil society organisations were funded through the Criminal Assets Recovery Funds, and victims were also taken into account when there was distribution of funds from the Asset Forfeiture Unit. The DSD had participated in 16 Days of Activism and No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign, and the 365 Days Programme of Action to end Gender-Based Violence. The Department had also conducted research, as set out in the presentation, had appointed full time VEP coordinators in nine provinces, and established in total 96 shelters for abused women to date. The Department of Justice had 17 Thuthuzela Centres. The DSD had also established victim support rooms in police stations, developed policy guidelines on VEP, and guidelines for management of child abuse. There were currently 96 safe shelters throughout South Africa to protect, care for and support victims of crime and violence. The Department would continue to set more up in other provinces.
Ms Nxumalo noted that in the last year the European Union (EU) and VEP Support Programme had been set up, in partnership with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime last year. The EU gave 20 million Euros, and the DSD provided leadership. This programme would support implementation of policies, improve relations between government departments within the sectors and with Civil Society organisations, assist government departments to capacitate staff for better implementation and compliance with minimum standards, strengthen the capacity of National and Provincial DSD and improve capacity to Civil Society organisations in delivering services to victims of crime. The implementation plans of VE policies, including the Victims’ Charter had been disseminated. Coordinators were set up in all provinces for this programme.
Other Victim Support Programmes included the Life Skills Programme in parenting skills, healthy life styles and the like, a Skills Development/Economic Development programme, teaching in Income Generation Projects such as catering, and beadwork. There were also psychosocial intervention programmes such as counselling, debriefing, and help lines. Finally the DSD also ran awareness campaigns to try to prevent violence.
Ms Nxumalo described the main challenges as a lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanism. There were gaps and victims were not really getting the type of services they deserved, there were still inadequate facilities for victims of crime, and too wide a geographic spread between such facilities. High staff turnover, with loss of skills to other departments, and an insufficient marketing and communication strategy further complicated issues. However, National Treasury was assisting in planning a communication strategy.
Ms Nxumalo concluded that VEP was therefore being strengthened through the EU Programme. There was a need to ensure there was a specific budget to fund non-governmental organisations (NGOs) assisting with the services. The DSD was undertaking research whether it was desirable to have legislation, as certain issues were not regulated. For instance, although shelters were registered for funding, they were not accredited under any legislation to check the quality of services provided.
Ms H Lamoela (DA) asked why the One Stop Centres were only set up in five provinces.
Ms Nxumalo responded that there were only five One Stop Centres partially because of budgeting issues, and partially dependent on need in those areas. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime assisted the Department by providing donor funding. Another four were being planned, for KwaZulu Natal (KZN), Limpopo, Free State and Mpumalanga, and the Department had asked provinces to plan for them.
Ms Lamoela asked for a copy of the guidelines of services on domestic violence, and the Department confirmed that these would be forwarded.
Ms Lamoela also asked what strategies were in place to address staff shortages. She was concerned that no mention was made of rural areas.
Mr V Magagula (ANC) noted that this was Victims’ Rights Week, and asked if there was any planning on this.
Ms Nxumalo responded that Victims Rights Week was not on the calendar of government but was identified by the Department of Justice as the lead department for the Victims’ Charter. This week in September was to be set aside to intensify efforts to educate communities about victims’ rights. National Treasury was assisting in setting up a communications strategy to market the services.
Mr Magagula asked for clarification on why, although policy guidelines were approved last year, the Department was still in the planning stages.
Ms Nxumalo said that the policy guidelines were approved last year. Although there had been work undertaken, there was no policy framework then in place. The Department was both continuing its planning and implementing.
Mr Magagula noted that some of the offices in Mpumalanga were not displaying any pictures of the President, the Minister, or provincial link person in the department.
Ms Nxumalo said she would inform the Communications section in the National Department of this.
Ms H Malgas (ANC) said the Uitenhage Women’s Empowerment Centre experienced difficulty in where to send women after they had spent time in the shelters. She asked what was DSD’s relationship with the Department of Human Settlements.
Ms Nxumalo responded that the Department had included the Department of Human Settlements in the VEP management, although they were not part of the policy guidelines, because of their vital involvement in shelters and transitional safe houses. The DSD was further advocating for transitional homes to be provided for abused women.
Ms Malgas noted that the Department of Justice had said that the specialist Sexual Offences Courts would be integrated into the mainstream. She asked how DSD was intending to maintain privacy in preparation of evidence, especially in the rural areas, where there were no separate court buildings that could be used.
Ms Malgas asked what retention policy was in place for Social Workers.
Ms Nxumalo noted that the Department did have a strategy for recruitment and retention of social workers, had received money from National Treasury, and was in the process of training. Although universities could only take a certain number, at least there was that mechanism to recruit. Although DSD did try to improve their salaries, this was only one aspect, as other issues such as the burden of capacity, accommodation in rural areas and shortage of office space also discouraged social workers from continuing to work for the Department. DSD had formulated an integrated infrastructure plan to ensure there were sufficient offices and accommodation for social workers in rural areas.
Ms Malgas noted that during Women’s Day celebrations LifeLine had indicated there were 60 shelters, yet the Department claimed to have 96. She asked for clarity.
Ms P Adams (ANC) also referred to recruitment criteria. She noted that the presentation had been silent on the issue of domestic violence. She also asked if the centres in the different provinces had facilities for people with disabilities.
Ms Nxumalo said she would circulate the document on research, which would address some issues. She noted that not all shelters were disabled-friendly but that issue was being addressed.
Ms J Manganye (ANC) asked what was the role and strategy of the National Department for the rural areas, and whether the communication strategy was user friendly to the rural areas. She suggested that the Department should improve its advertising to include those outside cities.
Ms Nxumalo responded that when the DSD advertised the availability of grants in the rural areas, rural organisations would often not submit business plans. In addition to the advertising, DSD would also inform the Provincial Coordinators of grants, so that they could convey information to district and branch offices and assist organisations to apply for EU funding. She confirmed that although the policy document had mentioned the rural areas, this was an area needing more work.
Ms Manganye suggested that there was a need to do more monitoring of social workers in these areas.
Ms Nxumalo noted that social workers had to make sure that they met the requirements. However, some systems were more relaxed for the rural areas.
Ms S Kopane (DA) asked for a copy of the research that the department had done in the VEP Centre on monitoring and planning.
Ms Nxumalo said that the Department was working on the generic indicators. The idea was that by the end of the project, the EU would leave the DSD with a system that was both manual and electronic. Ms Nxumalo confirmed that the research would be forwarded.
Ms J Masilo (ANC) asked whether the Department had a plan for the rehabilitation of drug and alcohol users, especially the youth. She also asked how many centres had been set up for older persons, who were also being abused, since the Older Persons Act was passed.
Ms Nxumalo said there should be rehabilitation facilities in each province. There were currently only five, and private ones were expensive. Only three of these provided drug-abuse services for the youth. The Department was trying to encourage sharing of resources with private organisations or NGOs where not sufficient facilities were otherwise available to try to extend the reach.
Ms Nxumalo agreed to circulate figures in relation to older persons, saying that the Department had a unit to deal with them.
Ms Masilo noted that when people were seeking protection orders, they were reluctant to go to the Department of Justice or the local magistrates or even police stations. South African Police Services (SAPS) had to provide referrals to the Department of Justice, but communication there was problematic, and monitoring and evaluation was a challenge.
The Chairperson said that VEP centres were available to all groups and would be accessible to abused older persons as well.
Ms M Mafolo (ANC) asked for clarification as to whether any measures were in place to pursue matters if the victims withdrew their complaints or refused to give evidence in court.
Ms Nxumalo agreed that this was a challenge, because it was the constitutional right of the victim to withdraw the case. However, the victims would be advised that withdrawal after a certain point could amount to defeating the ends of justice.
The Chairperson asked why the prosecutor could not decide to proceed without the victim.
Ms Nxumalo explained that refusal of the victim to give the essential evidence essentially meant that the case could not be prosecuted successfully.
Ms Mafolo asked what would happen if a victim, having laid a charge, then withdrew it and returned home, where she would once again be harmed by the perpetrator, and would lay another charge. She asked if there was a stage at which the victim would not be given assistance.
Ms Manganye felt that a large part of the problem related to having to give evidence in open court, particularly if a rape case was involved, and if children were in court. This was something needing to be examined in the Cluster.
Ms Nxumalo replied that the Department of Justice was re-looking at the issue of specialist courts, or at least having a time set aside only for dealing with sexual offence matters. It was still the prerogative of the victim to decide if she wished to give evidence.
Ms Malgas added that privacy was very important, and the same applied to giving evidence of domestic violence in open court. She suggested that DSD must deal with the possibility of allowing evidence to be given in camera.
Ms Malgas asked whether the Department of Justice would subpoena a witness, saying that it was up to the Prosecutor to decide whether to proceed.
Ms Nxumalo suggested that some of these issues should be addressed by Department of Justice.
Ms S Kopane asked what the DSD was doing to get commitments from the Department of Education.
The Chairperson asked whether the Cluster had discussed whether the Department of Education was playing its role as stakeholder at national or provincial level. She asked how failure of one department to perform would impact on the services.
Ms Nxumalo responded that DSD did bring that issue to the attention of the Cluster, after it had written to Department of Education calling for representatives to be sent on several occasions. A response was awaited. The Cluster would meet again on 17 September. The impact of its failure to attend was serious, because the Cluster had developed an integrated plan, which required input on putting the guidelines into operation, and on obtaining synergy of interventions with existing programmes in schools.
Mr Magagula asked what the Department had done on International Drug Abuse Day or Week.
Ms Nxumalo responded that the International Day of Drug Abuse was usually held annually on 26 June, and International Drug Week was the week before that. There were national campaigns and provincial activities. She suggested that in future the Committee join with the Department.
The Chairperson reminded Members that they should establish relationships with their MECs in their provinces to ensure that they were included in events.
Ukuthwala Briefing by DSD
Ms Musa Ngcobo-Mbere, Director: Child Protection, Department Social Development, and Ms Nomgcobo Mgilane, Senior Manager: Child Care, Eastern Cape Department of Social Development, briefed the Committee on the practice of ukuthwala, child abduction and forced marriage. This was regarded as gender-based violence.. The custom originated from the Xhosa culture, and was prevalent mostly in the OR Tambo district of Eastern Cape, where families made marriage arrangements for their girl children without the girl’s consent. Girls between the ages of twelve to fifteen were the most affected. The practice directly and indirectly impacted negatively on the development of the girl child, resulting in social isolation, denial of the right to education, poor life skills, psycho-social harm, early pregnancy and childbirth, and risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS.
An integrated awareness campaign was done by DSD and SAPS on the legislation protecting women and children, emphasising that failure to adhere to the law would result in prosecution. The municipality also identified an unused facility at Palmerton, owned by the Methodist Church, which was being used to shelter young girls and women who ran away from forced marriages. This was assessed for registration as a Place of Care in line with the Children’s Act, a dedicated social worker was allocated to run the Centre, and community outreach programmes were being implemented.
The matter had been discussed with traditional leaders. South Africa would comply with the international framework. In addition, this matter related to the rights of children as set out in the Constitution, as well as the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, No. 32 of 2000, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997, the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998.
The DSD had decided that young girls who were taken against their will, and who wished to return home, should be permitted to do so, and the lobola would be returned. Ukuthwala was no longer to be allowed, and any incidents would lead to prosecution. The District Municipality would continue with assessment of children. A business plan was developed for funding by the Department, and funding would depend on compliance with specific decisions to inform the Service Level Agreement. Children and adults would be placed separately at the Mthatha One Stop Centre for victims of violence.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere set out the provisions of the legislation. The Children’s Act specified that a child had the right not to be subjected to social, cultural and religious practices that were detrimental to his or her well being. A child below the minimum age of marriage may not be married or engaged, nor may a child above the minimum age be married or engaged without his or her consent. Chapter 7 of this Act focused on protection of children. Ukuthwala would be regarded as exploitation under this chapter. Chapter 9 focused on children in need of care and protection, with Section 150(1)(e) specifically speaking to a child who had been exploited or living in circumstances that exposed the child to exploitation. Chapter 17 focused on child abduction, giving effect to the Hague Convention on International Abduction.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere noted that the rights of children, as set out in the Constitution, the UN Convention and the African Charter, were to be upheld at all times. Child protection must be child-centred, with all decisions and actions being taken in the child’s best interests. Children should be heard in matters affecting them. The Department’s programmes were to be responsive to the diversity of children’s cultural backgrounds and circumstances. All role players must be held accountable, and all services must be aligned with principles of Batho Pele and Ubuntu.
The DSD partnered with a number of departments, at national, provincial and local levels, national NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs), faith-based organisations and community leaders. Services were offered at four levels: prevention, early intervention, statutory intervention and reintegration. The various services provided by DSD were set out, ranging from awareness-ranging programmes, through poverty alleviation, child participation, strengthening of families, developing strategies to deal with child labour, child trafficking and sexual exploitation, through counselling and support services to children, Strengthening of families and communities to provide the necessary care and protection to children, through to research, monitoring and evaluation. National Treasury allocated R35 million for five years to do a study on child abuse and exploitation.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere noted that early intervention programmes were provided to families where there were children identified as being vulnerable or at risk of harm or removal into alternate care. These programmes, in accordance with Section 144 of the Children’s Act, focused on preserving a child’s family structure, developing appropriate parenting skills and discipline, and provision of therapy programmes for children. They also focused on the prevention of neglect, exploitation, abuse or inadequate supervision of children, and aimed to prevent recurrence of problems.
The Department noted the need for an environment that enabled and supported change, and the need to strengthen the advocacy and awareness raising programmes, and monitor their impact. Government must commit to working collaboratively with all spheres and with civil society, on appropriate communication about the rights of children, and on education.
The Chairperson reminded Members of a meeting the previous week giving the international perspective on child marriages, and a comparison of programmes in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr Magagula asked whether there were conflicts in the culture and the position of the households.
Ms Manganye asked what had been the attitude of Amakhosi chiefs to discussions on ukuthwala.
Ms Malgas said that the practice of ukuthwala appeared to have been contained, and she asked if there were any cases reported after May 2009 and the ‘Together we are the Solution’ campaign, and whether any adults had been charged.
Ms Malgas noted that Bizana bordered on KwaZulu Natal, although the presentation only spoke to the Eastern Cape, and she, and the Chairperson, asked if this practice extended also to KwaZulu Natal or other provinces.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere said the reported cases of ukuthwala had happened in KwaZulu Natal, because of cross border issues. She was not aware of this in other provinces.
Ms Mgilane reported that Eastern Cape Traditional Leaders had explained to the communities that uthukwala was a former practice, but that it had not traditionally involved young children. There were no reports of new cases. There were children placed by district municipalities at the Palmerton Centre and at the Centre at Lusikisiki, but only 11 out of 91 children placed there had been abducted. Two perpetrators were arrested in connection with the abductions, and released on bail, and the other nine cases were still being investigated.
Mr Sandi Mbatsha, Special Advisor to the Minister of Social Development, noted that the House of Traditional Leaders had also discussed the issue, and confirmed that uthukwala was not applicable to children under eighteen, and had advised traditional leaders that the current abductions of children were in fact contrary to traditional practices. He noted that some men had believed that a child of fifteen was preferable to one of eighteen, who might already be sexually active, but he confirmed that under-age sexual relations were an offence. The Minister would be returning to Eastern Cape for other imbizos to emphasise that the current instances were contrary to the proper culture.
Mr Magagula asked what the minimum age of marriage was.
Ms Mgilane responded that it was eighteen years of age.
Ms Manganye said that both this presentation and that of UNICEF confirmed that South Africa had high instances of child abuse and violation of children’s rights.
Ms Manganye asked what were the challenges faced in reintegration of the child to the family, as she thought that some families would attempt to blame it on culture.
Ms Malgas noted that children and adults at One Stop Centres were to be separated. She asked which adults were referred to.
Ms Manganye referred to a girl admitted to the Centre with a two-year old child, which was placed at another centre in Mthatha because the mother was still attending school.
Ms Adams referred to the instance of the young girl returning home, and lobola being returned. She asked what would happen if there was a child born of the abduction.
The Chairperson responded that the father would not have rights to that child.
The Chairperson asked whether young girls who, in consequence of ukuthwala, were taken out of school were then returned to the schools, or offered a life skills programme so they could make up for the education and the time they had lost.
Ms Mgilane noted that the Palmerton Centre was near the schools, so all the children attended schools, and the Department of Education was very cooperative in this regard. This also affected the process of reintegrating children with the families.
The Chairperson asked if there were instances where the girl child who wished to return home was rejected by the parents, as they might regard their parental duties as having ceased, and whether the child would then become a ward of the State, especially if she was close to eighteen years of age.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere responded that there were always challenges with the reintegration of children, especially if there had been changed circumstances at the child’s home, in trying to balance the family’s ability to accommodate the child with the interests of the child. Ukuthwala was often about poverty alleviation, and the Department had needed to do a lot of work to stress that it was contrary to children’s rights. Many people failed to recognise child rights, and also failed to recognise the balance of rights and responsibilities. As yet the Department had no reports on reunification as social workers were still dealing with interventions.
The Chairperson said that she had the impression that ukuthwala was often used to get income for the family. She noted that if the young girl returned, the requirement that the lobola must be returned would be an added burden to the already desperately poor families, and asked if there would be any assistance.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere agreed that most of the affected families were indeed very poor, especially in the district of OR Tambo. The province had an integrated poverty eradication programme that was supposed to be coordinated at the office of the Premier, but was actually coordinated by the DSD, to ensure that all government departments dealt with poverty in an integrated fashion. This aimed to ensure that families were also able to take care of their children.
Ms Lamoela asked how the lack of social workers impacted on service delivery, especially in the rural areas, pointing out that whatever was implemented had to be monitored.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere conceded that the Department faced challenges in getting programmes implemented in the rural areas, due to the lack of social workers. Part of the recruitment and retention strategy involved accommodation offered to those working in the rural areas, but some might not have cars or driving licences, which meant they could not work effectively.
She added that there were further challenges posed by under reporting of cases and lack of infrastructure. Auxiliary social workers were being trained and bursaries were available for them to progress to becoming social workers if they did well. Until there were enough social workers, the Department would risk having children falling through the cracks in the systems.
Ms Kopane asked how many children were involved in uthukwala.
Ms Masilo asked whether there was any intention to come up with legislation on ukuthwala.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere responded that because ukuthwala involved the parents, it was often not reported. The Child Protection Register had not recorded this. Eastern Cape was also very strong on the issue of virginity testing, and ukuthwala should have been legislated for, similar to virginity testing and circumcision. There was a need to amend the legislation to take it into account.
Ms Masilo noted the mention of interventions by way of Early Childhood Development (ECD). She noted that this fell under the Department of Education, and asked where the funding would emanate, and whether DSD would have any links with the local authorities and their funding.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere replied that ECD facilities were subsidised by government if the facility was registered, on the basis of a set amount per child per day. The Department of Education was still paying for teachers in Grade R.
The Chairperson asked about infant mortality rates as a consequence of early child marriage.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere noted that she would have to report back on this.
The Chairperson asked how the Department was dealing with the adult male involved in the uthukwala, as he would have committed rape. She thought that he would have no rights over a child born from such rape. However, she was interested in hearing how it was ensured that he would not simply find another child-bride. UNICEF had described its non-judgmental approach to issues such as female circumcision and child marriages, which had successfully persuaded communities in sub-Saharan Africa to cease these practices. She believed that it was important to ensure that ukuthwala would not happen again, and to empower women who had been victims of this in the past.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere noted that the South African Human Rights Commission had held a seminar and a week of community awareness campaigns in the Eastern Cape, to educate communities how uthukwala affected children and why it was contrary to the law.
Mr Sandi Mbatsha, Special Advisor to the Minister, advised that when a delegation of Ministers had visited the area they had instructed the police, if receiving complaints, to arrest not only the child’s husband but also the parents involved in the abduction and rape.
The Chairperson asked how Eastern Cape was managing the issue of amakweta raping young women as part of their initiation. She noted that the role of men and boys in society, and the roles that they expected women to play, were other areas of concern needing to be addressed.
Ms Ngcobo-Mbere said the DSD had taken up these allegations with Manyane, an organisation that was doing very well in terms of gender based values, who stated that they had not received such reports. She agreed that building social cohesion played a pivotal role in creating equity in society.
Ms Lana Petersen, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Ministry of Social Development, noted that the Minister and Special Advisor Mr Sandi Mbatsha had met with traditional leaders, so that there had been reach out to the leadership and communities.
The Chairperson asked if there were likely to be more children than the eleven already identified, who had not reported their abduction, and whether anything could be done for girls trapped in marriages.
Ms Mgilane said that during awareness campaigns some women who had been married for thirty years had claimed that they had been abducted and wanted to leave the marriage. It was agreed that these cases must be examined on their individual merits.
The Chairperson asked whether abuses occurring so long ago could still be reported. The practice was still a rights issue.
Ms Mgilane responded that this process of intervention had revealed women exposed to a great deal of gender based violence and it was time that they came forward and got assistance. Some of the girls coming to the Centre, although they were over eighteen, had been sent on to Mthatha because they had been exposed to violence.
Mr Sandi Mbatsha said the issue of ukuthwala was not limited only to Xhosa culture. There were a number of religious groupings that practiced similar arranged marriages between much older men and young girls. Sometimes the lobola paid was extremely low, which was an indication that it was directly linked to alleviation of poverty. In addition, many children were staying with their grandparents, or with relatives other than their parents, and were not sufficiently protected. He pointed out that some of the girls now at Palmerton had tried to return home, but their families had arranged for their abduction again.
Oversight Visit to Eastern Cape
It was noted that when the Minister visited the Eastern Cape the Committee would like to part of the process, and would like to engage with the MEC on Social Development to see whether these issues were being addressed. It was agreed that the Chairperson would liaise with the Minister and MEC, and that the Committee would at the same time assess VEP and visit facilities in the province.
It was further agreed that minutes would in future be adopted at the following meetings.
The meeting was adjourned.