Children need special protection because they are among the most vulnerable members of society. They are dependent on others – their parents and families, or the state when these fail – for care and protection.
Given the abuse children suffered under apartheid – when many were detained without trial and faced discriminnation in healthcare, housing, education and many other areas of their lives it was important to make sure that children’s rights became a priority.
The Bill of Children’s Rights is based on the premise that the best interests of a child is of paramount concern when it comes to any matter affecting him or her.
Section 28 – Children
Section 28 of the Bill of Rights, entitled “Children”, says:
- Every child has the right to –
- a name and a nationality from birth;
- family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment;
- basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services;
- be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation;
- be protected from exploitative labour practices
- not be required or permitted to perform work or provide services that –
- are inappropriate for a person of that child’s age; or
- place at risk the child’s well-being, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development;
- not be detained except as a measure of last resort, in which case, in addition to the rights a child enjoys under sections 12 and 35, the child may be detained only for the shortest appropriate period of time, and has the right to be –
- kept separately from detained persons over the age of 18 years; and
- is treated in a manner, and kept in conditions, that take account of the child’s age;
- have a legal practitioner assigned to the child by the state, and at state expense, in civil proceedings affecting the child, if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and
- not be used directly in armed conflict, and to be protected in times of armed conflict.
- A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.
- In this section ‘child’ means a person under the age of 18 years.
This section gives children the right to a name, citizenship and some form of care. Children need food and shelter, and should be protected from abuse, neglect and degradation. No child should work when under-age, or do work that would interfere with his or her education or development.
Children should be jailed only as a last resort and should not have to share a cell with adults. They should not take part in wars and should be protected during conflict.
The second sub-section, a very important clause, says a child’s interests are the most important consideration in any matter concerning the child.
That the Bill of Rights has a section exclusively focused on children does not mean that the rights in the others sections do not apply to them too. The sections that deal with equality, human dignity, religion and health – as well as many others – are especially relevant and also apply to children.
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