CFJ calls on Parliament to ‘act now to protect our children from harmful content’

Cause For Justice (CFJ) delivered oral submissions to the Portfolio Committee on Social Development in Parliament yesterday. [1] Over the course of this week, the Committee has been holding public hearings in respect of the Children’s Amendment Bill, 2020.

CFJ focused its contribution on the re-inclusion of a certain provision – ‘section 6B’, which concerns ‘children and the media’ – in the Bill. The Department of Social Development proposed the inclusion of the new section 6B in its first draft version of the Bill, but omitted it from later versions. 1

The harmful impact of exposure to sexual and violent content on children, especially pornography, is well-researched and documented by wide range of academics, researchers, international experts and child protection organisations2. A new section 6B would create a positive obligation – i.e. set out what people are legally required to do – for the media, parents, caregivers and guardians to “protect children from exposure to potentially disturbing or harmful materials and from premature exposure to adult experiences”3.

Reasoning from the constitutional principle that “a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child,”4 CFJ implored the committee to seize the opportunity to re-insert an improved version of section 6B in the Bill.

CFJ explained that for the sake of legal certainty, and to make the provision implementable and enforceable, the original version of section 6B needed to be improved by:

  • Clarifying the meaning of key terms and phrases like “the media”, “potentially disturbing and harmful materials”, and “premature exposure to adult experiences”;
  • Expanding the legal duty created by the provision beyond the media, parents, caregivers and guardians to include certain “accountable persons” already recognised by the Children’s Act, 2005 as having a higher duty to protect children;
  • Linking the legal duty to protect children to an objectively measurable and specified standard for compliance; and
  • Providing an enforcement mechanism and consequences (i.e. sanction) for non-compliance with the provision.

The legislative road ahead
The committee must now consider all the public comments it received in respect of the bill to decide what amendments need to be made to its current version.

CFJ will continue to closely follow the progress of the law-making process and participate in further public engagement opportunities5 to advocate for legal reforms that effectively protect the children of South Africa.

Notes:

1CFJ delivered substantive written submissions in respect of the current version of the Bill in November 2020 (as well as in respect of the previous versions of Bill). See: https://causeforjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Children-Amendment-Bill-2020-CFJ-Submissions.pdf.

2See: https://endsexualexploitation.org/publichealth/; https://fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/; https://www.echildhood.org/the_facts; http://globalkidsonline.net/southafrica/; and https://www.echildhood.org/statement.

3Other pieces of legislation that contain similar provisions, such as the Film and Publications Act, 1996 for example, contain negative obligations (what people may NOT do), but very few positive obligations (what people MUST do).

4Section 28(2) of the Constitution.

5Provincial consultations are set to be held during July and August later this year.

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One Comment

  1. Thankful for CFJ being salt & light in SA