Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has written to the Minister of Social Development to complain of the insufficient time and lack of information given by the Department to enable the public to participate and give input on the provisions in the Children’s Third Amendment Draft Bill (“the Bill”).
Section 8 of this Bill is highly controversial because it proposes the abolition of any form of corporal discipline in the home. It further proposes the removal of the historic common law defence of moderate and reasonable chastisement, which has protected parents from facing a charge of assault if they use any form of physical discipline in raising their children.
“This bill represents a major shift in the approach of the State towards parents and their rights to raise their children according to their own moral and/or religious beliefs,” says Michael Swain, Executive Director of FOR SA.
“It will affect all South Africans and, as such, it is imperative that sufficient time be allocated for a proper public participation process to take place.”
The Department of Social Development (DSD) published the bill on July 19 and invited public participation and comment in the form of a series of public meetings in the various provinces commencing this week, as well as written submissions, which must be received from the public by Friday September 7.
However, the DSD has failed to publish contact details in any official communication or notification to enable public comment in the form of written submissions. The DSD also advertised (and gave dates for) public participation and information meetings, but with the exception of a single day’s notice for the Johannesburg meeting, there has been no further announcement or communication by the DSD of the venues and times when these meeting will take place.
On enquiry by FOR SA, we were informed that the meetings are in fact by invitation only, limited to a set number of people, and therefore not open to the general public. Upon request for an invitation, FOR SA – representing approximately 6 million people – was “waitlisted”.
“FOR SA has written to the Minister to say that the opportunity for comment and interaction has fallen woefully short of the acceptable standard for public participation and will be open to judicial review.” says Swain.
“We are therefore asking that the entire process of public participation into this bill be halted and re-set, with the contact details and meetings published in advance and the deadline for written submissions and comment extended until Friday October 26 to allow for meaningful contributions by the public.”