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Category Archive: Child abduction

Children’s Amendment Bill

South Africa has some of the most progressive children’s legislation in the world. The Amendment Bill before Parliament strengthens protective measures for children even further and aims to close gaps in the child protection system. This article provides a summary of the additional controls being introduced. Some of the amendments concern terminology, to align the original Act with current family and child law practice, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some of the changes are more significant.

Unmarried fathers

The Bill makes further provision for the rights of unmarried fathers. Originally, an unmarried father enjoyed full parental responsibilities and rights if he was living with the mother at the time of the birth in a permanent life partnership…or… consented to be identified as the child’s father, contributed to the child’s upbringing for a reasonable period, and contributed to child maintenance expenses for a reasonable period.

Section 21, which covers unmarried fathers, has been amended to clarify that a father who is not married to the mother and who was living with her at any time between the child’s conception and birth automatically acquires full parental responsibilities and rights with regard to that child. A family advocate may issue a certificate confirming these parental responsibilities and rights.

Children in need of care and protection

Sections dealing with children in care or in need of protection have been tightened, and the interests of the child prioritised. A child who has been abandoned or orphaned and has no parent or other caregiver to care for them is considered a child “in need of care and protection”. This definition extends to “an unaccompanied migrant child from another country”, “a victim of trafficking”, or a child who “has been sold by a parent caregiver or guardian”. Furthermore, the Bill clarifies the application of the Children’s Act to all children in South Africa, including non-citizens. It extends the jurisdiction of the children’s court to include “guardianship of an orphaned or abandoned child” and an “unaccompanied or separated migrant child, or the child of an asylum seeker or refugee, as contemplated in the Refugees Act, 1998”.

The permitted duration for placing a child in temporary safe care has been amended. A child may not be placed in temporary safe care for more than 72 hours without a court order, or for more than six months at a time. If a child runs away from alternative care and is found and brought back within 48 hours, they will no longer appear before the children’s court. Instead, their social worker will assess the child and try to establish the reason for the escape. This acknowledges that some children find care homes very stressful and are not necessarily delinquent or unruly because they attempt to flee.

Child abduction

A new section has been added to the Children’s Act to expedite proceedings when a child has been abducted. This is to ensure that the interests of the child are represented and protected by eliminating delays in the judicial process. Children adapt and adjust quickly and, once adaptation to the new environment has occurred, it may not be in the child’s best interests to return home, even if the abduction was unlawful. On the day of the application for the return of a child, the Central Authority must bring the application to the attention of the judge president of the relevant division of the High Court for the appointment of a legal representative for the child.

Surrogacy

Changes to Chapter 19 of the Children’s Act, Surrogate Motherhood, are minor, but ensure that the health and age of both the commissioning parents and surrogate mother are considered by the court before the surrogacy can be confirmed.

Early childhood development 

Chapter Six of the Children’s Act deals with early childhood development, long recognised as critical in the development of a child’s cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential. The Bill amends the definition to include provision for children with disabilities. It also obliges the government to develop a comprehensive national strategy aimed at securing a properly resourced, coordinated, managed and inclusive early childhood development system. At provincial level MECs are responsible for ensuring their provincial strategies are inclusive and provide for children with disabilities and special needs. There must be a record maintained of registered early childhood development programmes in the province with specific mention of inclusive programmes. Furthermore, an MEC may prioritise funding for early childhood development programmes in rural, underserved, or poverty-declared wards, to ensure appropriate targeting of this vital service.

Adoption

Adoption is covered at length, with particular attention paid to inter-country adoption and the adoption of a child of a child.

In summary

The Bill runs to 102 clauses, many of which are “minor consequential amendments” for clarification. However, some of the amendments significantly enhance the protective environment for all children in South Africa, whether citizens or not. We welcome these changes, which are summarised below:

  • To provide for children’s right to privacy and protection of information
  • To further provide for the rights of unmarried fathers; to extend the children’s court jurisdiction
  • To further provide for funding of early childhood development programmes
  • To provide for the designation and functions for a Registrar of the National Child Protection Register
  • To further provide for the care of abandoned or orphaned children and additional matters that may be regulated
  • To further provide for rules relating to care and protection proceedings
  • To further provide for medical testing of children in need of care and protection or adoption
  • To provide for additional matters relating to children in alternative care
  • To further provide for matters relating to adoption and inter-country adoption
  • To further provide for the hearing of child abduction matters
  • To further provide for matters relating to surrogate motherhood
  • To provide for matters connected therewith

Get professional help with parenting issues

Cape Town law firm SD Law is an expert in family law. If you need help with child care and contact (custody and access) or a parenting plan, or if you have any questions about the Children’s Act and Amendment Bill, call Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za. We’ve helped many families reach agreement on complex parenting issues.

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This article first appeared on divorceattorneycapetown.co.za on 2020-11-12.

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Sharp increase in UK child sexual abuse during pandemic

While South Africa and the UK have experienced COVID-19 and lockdown differently, some of the consequences have been as global as the pandemic itself. We may not have the same number of children in care homes, but our children and adolescents face the same risks from online predators. With children spending more time online, and parents also trying to work remotely and therefore not able to provide continuous supervision, online stalkers are having a field day, as this article explains. Make sure you know what your children are doing online. Keep them safe.

Reprinted from the Guardian, by Jess Staufenberg – 2020-07-08

Children’s homes warn of struggle to keep residents safe as more time spent online puts young people at greater risk

online predators are on the increase
Children’s home manager Laverne Cole says some girls thought lockdown was imposed by the home, rather than the government. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Lockdown was supposed to make us all safer and save lives. But for some vulnerable young people the opposite has been true.

Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, warned last month that isolation was creating a “perfect storm” for child sexual abuse. With most pupils not back at school before September, children are spending more time online, putting them at greater risk of being targeted by strangers through social media, apps and gaming. And, although lockdown is easing, children now face the long summer holidays with few adults outside the family to spot if something is going seriously wrong.

At the moment, data on child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse during lockdown is not yet clear. We know from recent National Crime Agency (NCA) figures that at least 300,000 people in the UK pose a risk of committing physical or online child abuse, more than double the 140,000 reported last year. And NCA figures shared exclusively with the Guardian show that during each of the 13 weeks of lockdown, around 350 cases of online child sexual abuse were passed to police, a 10% increase on the same period last year.

Even then, it may take some time. Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at NSPCC, warns that it may not be until 2021 that we will know the full impact. “What we’re likely to see here is a long tail of disclosures [in autumn].”

Meanwhile, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a charity that reports and removes online child abuse, revealed in May that during lockdown, three major internet companies logged 8.8m hits to child sexual abuse imagery from the UK alone.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive at the IWF, warns of an “exponential rise in self-generated content, where children on their phones and laptops have clearly been coerced and groomed into sharing graphic sexual images of themselves, without realising these are being recorded and shared”. She adds: “Clearly, the more vulnerable the child is, the more likely they are to be tricked and coerced.”

Perhaps nowhere are vulnerable children more likely to be found in greater numbers than in England and Wales’s 2,360 children homes.

One west London home for girls at risk of sexual exploitation has been pioneering a system to keep its residents safe – although it has found it harder to enforce amid lockdown, particularly as new guidance around “staying alert” has blurred the rules.

On arrival at the home, which is run by the charity St Christopher’s Fellowship, the girls’ phones are removed and they are then returned as a reward for safe behaviour. They also get a fob key to leave the house, which – crucially – can be deactivated by staff.

“It’s about being attentive to their patterns,” explains Laverne Cole, regional manager at St Christopher’s. “They might be unsettled or perhaps they’re still dressed when everyone else is in pyjamas. Their mood dips or they become excitable. We say, ‘We’re worried about your safety, let’s do something inside today’.”

According to Cole, the system, which in 2015 won funding under the Department for Education’s Social Care Innovation Programme, has resulted in far fewer girls going missing, and the DfE’s evaluation of the project notes “a decline in incidents involving actual or potential harm to self or others over the course of the intervention”.

But this model, which rewards good behaviour indoors with the freedom to go outside, has been fundamentally undermined by lockdown. Some girls thought lockdown was imposed by the home, rather than the government, Cole explains.

“We had one young person who found that really hard and went to great lengths to contact the police about her human rights.” The police, she says, helped to “reinforce the message that this isn’t coming from us and we’re not doing anything unlawful”.

The incident shows how children’s homes, which already strike a delicate balance around their residents’ liberty, faced losing young people’s trust when trying to enforce lockdown. It’s a balance set to become even more complicated, as experts warn of a “summer of rave” and parties amid the government’s lack of clarity about when socially starved young people can meet up.

But not all children’s homes were able to keep residents safe inside during the height of the pandemic. At a privately run care home in East Anglia, staff could not prevent a 13- and a 14-year-old girl from being abducted by men in their 20s who had contacted the girls through social media. “Often the girls don’t perceive it as harm,’ says John Anderson, the owner of the children’s home. “The abusers can be seductive and so in a child’s mind it becomes very confusing.”

During lockdown, a taxi appeared outside the home and the girls got in. Anderson immediately confronted the driver. “I asked him not to take them as, legally, it was child abduction, but he didn’t listen. We rang the police and photographed the taxi driver, then followed him.”

The police eventually rescued the girls and arrested the men. The situation sounds chillingly familiar: the 2014 independent inquiry into Rotherham child abuse from 1997 to 2013 noted taxi drivers were a “common thread” across cases.

Ex-chancellor Sajid Javid has launched an inquiry into child sexual abuse and online predators
 Ex-chancellor Sajid Javid, who has launched an inquiry into child sexual abuse and exploitation. Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty Images

A pressing issue is the lack of secure placements, says Anderson. With only 15 secure homes in the country but demand for them rising, open residential homes like his are increasingly being asked to take in young people who need higher staff ratios and more restrictive measures. It’s another pressure on the system that’s been exacerbated by coronavirus, but which will not go away as lockdown begins to ease. Anderson eventually found the highest-risk girl a secure solo placement with a three-to-one staff ratio.

Javid has now launched an inquiry into child sex abuse and exploitation with the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The first part on organised child sexual exploitation, including gangs and on-street grooming, is expected to be published in the autumn.

Speaking on the phone, he says he is particularly concerned that – as happened in East Anglia – dangerous taxi drivers are still arriving outside children’s homes. It’s “terrible”, he says, adding “there is a case to look at powers for child protection and the police, so that they are able to do more to protect young people when we know they are in harm’s way”.

Javid also believes technology could be used more effectively. “Why is it not the case that [taxi drivers’] movements … are constantly monitored on GPS? So if you drive near a children’s home, that information would be available to law enforcement and others and act as a deterrent.”

In the meantime, children’s home managers would like some recognition that they have been working flat out to keep vulnerable young people safe.

Carol Smith, residential manager of a therapeutic children’s home in north Wales, says “there’s still a stigma” around children’s homes and many staff have felt unrecognised. “There’s been a lot of clapping for nursing homes but I do feel like children’s homes have been sadly missed. We live here, we sleep here. We care about these children like they’re our own children.”

Some names have been changed

Cape Town attorney can help

If you’re worried about cyberbullying, online predators or other risks to your children’s safety online, we can review your situation and arrange a protection order if warranted. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or simon@sdlaw.co.za today for more information or to make an appointment. We now offer online consultations. We’ll call you back and schedule a meeting at a time that suits you, on the platform of your choosing.

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