Bill does not promote children’s well-being

Picture: Rene Bernal

It could be Child Protection Week when you read this.

Or maybe not, if we can rely on the rumours, that it has been postponed to accommodate the president’s inauguration.

But either way, there is no time to lose – our national Department of Social Development is intent on bulldozing legislation through our Sixth Parliament that will denigrate children’s basic human rights: the Children’s Amendment Bill of 2019 (CAB2019).

And so we can expect that soon after settling into their seats in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces, there will be mounting pressure on legislative members to prioritise and finalise this bill.

If we truly want to promote the protection of children and their well-being, we cannot allow this bill to be passed. It is structurally unsound in what it includes and what it leaves out.

Due process was not followed before the gazetting of the bill, nor in its subsequent revisions; the policy upon which it is based is being retrospectively revised to “fit”. The voices of children and families who stand to be directly affected by the proposals have not been heard. Key stakeholders have not been properly consulted and insufficient intersectoral input has been sought from those serving children. It is an unmitigated disaster.

Enter Bayakhanya, the newly- launched not for profit foundation that means “they shine like stars”, and is intent on securing the rights of every child to permanent family care and a place within which to star.

It is intent on closing the gap that exists between children’s rights in our Constitution – and their reality – by challenging flawed policy and advocating instead for legislation infused with Ubuntu that empowers children to overcome the past and reach their future potential.

Bayakhanya is based in Somerset West and its first campaign is #CAB2019 – RETRACT, REWORK, RE-PRESENT, which is co-ordinating opposition to the Children’s Amendment Bill in order to protect the parentless (including those children who have been orphaned, abandoned, neglected, abused, displaced or institutionalised).

I initiated the Change.org petition to raise public awareness and seek support: currently over 41 300 signatories have objected to the procedure followed as well as the contents of the proposed bill, which provides a solid platform from which to engage with decision makers.

The petition has been brought to the attention of the Office of the Presidency, the former Minister of Social Development, National Assembly Speaker and Chair of the Portfolio Committee.

By the time you read this, the new Speaker, the Honourable Thandi Modise, and Amos Masondo, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, would have received our written request, backed by an initial group of over 6 500 endorsees.

Despite our repeated attempts, it appears that it now is too late for the president or the minister to intervene, but either of these new appointees could send the bill back to the drawing board before allowing it to progress further through Parliament.

If they fail to do so, the bill will be referred for parliamentary discussion and debate, with the only remaining option being for interested parties to make further submissions at that late stage (assuming we avoid talk of constitutional challenges for the time being).

That is far from ideal: the policy undergirding the bill needs to be reformulated and the bill itself substantively reworked – and only once that has happened, should it be presented as a true vehicle for child protection.

And so we continue, networking with key role-players nationally and regionally, increasing our advocacy to safeguard children, participating in television and radio shows, consolidating the stories of children who have benefitted from family care, collating research into the importance of every child’s timeline and first 1 000 days, and focusing on the trauma of institutionalisation on children, to counter the proponents of the bill who openly state their preference for institutionalisation or cluster foster care, rather than permanent care through adoption for children where that includes crossing lines of colour, creed or culture.

Of particular interest is information from other African countries with policies advocating for de-institutionalisation, such as Zambia, and those setting out key criteria that must be in place before children who have not been cared for, can be reunified with extended family.

Bayakhanya will closely monitor the bill’s progression as the Sixth Parliament takes shape, and will shortly consult with a Constitutional Court expert to ensure that we take all procedural steps that may be necessary in the event that we have to lodge an application on behalf of parentless children in the Constitutional Court.

Any such application will include the effects on children’s rights of core issues such as abandonment, institutionalisation, reunification, and children and parents who are discriminated against for not being South African.

We hope to appoint a media expert to establish an interactive Bayakhanya Facebook page, setting out our strategy, seeking support and providing all relevant information on our project for individual and corporate donors, as well as to convert our petition signatories into a database to generate future social media and financial support.

We need to raise finances to cover this additional expertise as well as operational expenses and the production of visually-impactful video clips that highlight the problematic issues – and provide alternative suggestions that respect and promote the rights of children instead. These clips will bring home the key issues contained in written submissions and complement oral presentations to Parliament.

The question each one of us should be asking right now is: “Do I believe that every parentless child has the right to the protection and nurturing of permanent family care?” If not – do nothing.

Children’s most basic human rights will be sacrificed to politics and society will pay the price of future mentorless generations.

But if yes, take a stand to ensure that the best interests of children are always right at the top of the agenda, where they should be.

Insist on public participation and the inclusion of the voices of parentless children in the democratic process of law-making.

Advocate for the right of every child to childhood, by standing with us and demanding that CAB2019 be retracted, reworked – and only then, re-presented.

You cannot afford not to.

Debbie Wybrow is the founder and director of Wandisa Adoption Agency NPC. Follow them on Facebook, or contact them at bayakhanyafoundation@gmail.com or 082 872 9010.