While it is very difficult to police cultural norms and practices, the intention of the Customary Initiation Bill is rightly focussed on informing and educating multiple stakeholders on their rights and responsibilities in respect of a cultural practice.

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as the government Department responsible for traditional affairs, has correctly placed emphasis on the constitutional imperative in respect of the right to life; the rights of people to enjoy their culture and the rights of children to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. The CUD is cognisant and supportive of the right to practice traditional and hereditary practices, which are referenced in the Bill, and commends the Department for assuming the leadership in codifying mechanisms to ensure oversight and regulation of such practices.

Central to the Bill is the issue of consent, by young men, their parents and caregivers to undergo this cultural practice. The CUD calls on all role-players to strengthen this crucial element of the Bill through education and studious monitoring, in order that coercion and abuse of young people is avoided.

The Bill is comprehensive in identifying regulatory and oversight mechanisms at national and provincial level, as well as identifying various role-players involved in the initiation process – from medical personnel (traditional and mainstream), to parents, police and prosecution services, and traditional leaders. This is a welcome development to the current unregulated – and sometimes illegal – schools operating in both rural and urban areas of the country.

As detailed in the CUD’s submission, the key recommendation is that the supremacy of the Constitution, the Children’s Act and the General Regulations Regarding Children must remain the benchmark in the implementation of what will hopefully become law in the next few months, in order to avoid more deaths of young men in particular.

By Ms Zohra Dawood: Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity

Photo credit: coda via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA 

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