South Africa’s 21.5 million children (36.7% of the total population) are also extended constitutionally-protected rights. Section 28(1)(d) of the Constitution states that every child has the right “to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”. However, according to the 2016 Optimus Study, conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and the University of Cape Town’s Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit, 35.4% of children had experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of 17 years.  This year’s Crime Statistics indicated that of the reported sexual assaults, 46.5% were committed against children. In addition, 1 014 children were murdered in the 2018/19 period, an increase of 29 over the previous period. Furthermore, despite the Constitutional Court’s decision in 2000 to ban corporal punishment, according to the 2018 General Household Survey, 5.7% of children still experienced corporal punishment in schools. More than 60% continue to experience corporal punishment in their homes.

Some progress was also recorded; infant mortality declined from 56.5 per 1000 in 2002 to 22.1 in 2019 – and the under-five mortality rate dropped from 70 to 28.5 during the same period.  77% of children also received nutrition at schools. Perhaps the most important assurance for children in  the Bill of Rights is the provision in section 28(2) that “a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child”.

Clearly, we have a long way to go before our children’s best interests are advanced in practice. World Children’s Day provides us with a reminder of the enormous work that must be still be done to ensure a secure and nurturing environment for all our children. 

Issued by the Centre for Constitutional Rights
20 November 2019