18 June 1997


PRETORIA -- South Africa's criminal law fails to offer children sufficient protection against sexual abuse, according to an SA Law Commission issue paper released in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Few offenders are being convicted and most aspects of the existing legal position need to be revised, the document says.

It was compiled by a task team set up by the commission about six months ago to evoke public comment on the issue of child abuse.

The document says multiple problems are experienced when child abuse cases are brought to court.

"The criminal laws and criminal procedure, as it currently stands, as a mechanism to protect children from abuse, is to a great extent ineffective."

There is no criminal offence labelled "child sexual abuse" or even "child neglect" in South African law, and such crimes have to be dealt with in terms of common law covering a wide range of offences.

An example is the Sexual Offences of 1957, which the paper says is formulated in archaic terms.

"The Act (also) does not address problems such as 'sex tourism', which is growing in South Africa. In general the Act is considered to be defective in the protection it affords children."

The Prevention of Family Violence Act of 1993, which provides for an interdict to prevent assaults on an applicant or a child, is not in common use to prevent child abuse.

"An ongoing reluctance in many police officers to involve themselves in issues of family violence is part of the problem, while bureaucratic delays and logjams are further serious stumbling blocks," the paper says.

It also expresses concern that the Films and Publications Act of 1996 does not provide protection against the dissemination of pornographic material on Internet for use by paedophiles.

The document, among others, raises the possibility that a register be kept of convicted or even alleged sexual offenders.

Presenting Deputy Justice Minister Manto Tshabalala with a copy of the paper, SA Law Commission member Thandabantu Nhlapo said the document was the first step towards drafting new legislation against child abuse.

The task team would receive public comment on the paper until August 31, after which a discussion paper and draft legislation would be compiled. The commission would also release this document for comment before submitting its final recommendations to Justice Minister Dullah Omar.

Tshabalala said a special effort would be made to get the views of communities on the issue. Children would also be consulted.

"We are not only serving the children of South Africa, but also those of the continent," she said.

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