Child Justice Act launched
Johannesburg - The long-awaited Child Justice Act came into effect on Thursday.
Speaking at the official launch in Soweto, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said the legislation provided a criminal justice system specifically geared for children in conflict with the law.
"This is in recognition of the fact that the normal criminal justice system often fails to deal with the peculiar challenges facing children, such as their inability to understand the consequences of their actions," he said.
The Act will facilitate diverting offenders under the age of 18 away from the mainstream criminal justice.
The Act makes special provision for young offenders showing remorse, by addressing the original crime in such a way that the offender does not enter a continuous cycle of crime and violence.
In terms of the Act, children under 10-years-old committing an offence must be referred to a probation officer for assessment, and a preliminary inquiry must be held after such assessment.
Main aim of new law
Radebe said the main aim was to ensure that children's matters were managed in a rights-based manner, sensitive to the needs of children, and to effectively and efficiently help children in conflict with the law turn their lives around and became productive members of society.
If a child did not complete a diversion programme successfully, an inquiry would determine why.
"If the child was not at fault, he will be assisted in completing the programme, or will be diverted into another. If the child is at fault for not completing the programme he can still be prosecuted for the original offence."
The Child Justice Alliance (CJA) said it was a historic day for child justice and children's rights in South Africa.
"The legislation is progressive as it raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 10 years.
Magistrates trained for Act
"Furthermore, the assessment and diversion of young offenders will now be regulated for the first time in the criminal justice system," CJA co-ordinator said Bianca Robertson said.
To ensure the effective operation of procedures, the Act clearly defined the roles and duties of all involved.
Pretoria Chief Magistrate Desmond Nel said magistrates had been trained to deal with the new Act.
"I will know by the end of the day (Thursday) what challenges have been experienced and what are the short-comings," he said.