SA still has no sexual offences policy

2011-06-21 21:29
Cape Town - Four years after the law on sexual offences was reviewed, the justice department conceded on Tuesday it was still struggling to finalise a national policy framework on how to implement it.

The failures range from completing a national register of sexual offenders, giving rape victims access to antiretrovirals and training police and prosecutors to deal with victims, department officials told Parliament's portfolio committee on justice.

Advocate Praise Kambula, director of child justice and family law, blamed the delay on difficulty in bringing together different government and provincial departments.

"To get nine heads of departments at any working session is not easy." Acting director general of justice, Simon Jiyane, said "not all" departments had complied with a June 17 deadline to report on their progress in implementing the policy.

"Before the end of July we should get the final reports."

Committee chairperson Luwellyn Landers condemned the state of affairs.

"I'm very disturbed. I'm beginning to understand why NGOs were sitting on my back... Maybe we expected too much when we approved the law amendments. Maybe we had stars in our eyes."

Delays not acceptable

The African Christian Democratic Party's Steve Swart pointed out that the initial deadline for a policy framework to be tabled was 2009, two years after the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act was passed.

That deadline was not met and subsequently extended to March 2010.

"The delays with this thing are just not acceptable," he said.

Swart wanted to know whether the state had set an overall budget for medication to rape victims, since the task of gazetting 100 facilities providing post-exposure prophylaxis was not complete.

Landers warned it would be idealistic to expect all victims to get ready access to antiretrovirals.

"If somebody is raped in the deep rural areas, you and I know that there is not going to be post-prophylaxis provided."

Lisa Vetten from the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre said the police were mistakenly directing victims to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital for the drugs.

She said ultimately the health department deserved blame for this because it was its task to gazette a list, which it had not done.

Vetten told MPs the centre had resorted using the Promotion of Access to Information Act to force departments to disclose progress in giving effect to the law changes.

Victims not getting priority

She said so far only Gauteng had been training public servants to handle rape victims with the necessary sensitivity for the past three years. A training course lasted 10 days, which she described as adequate.

The Western Cape had been doing training for one year, and presented only a one-day course.

Vetten said it was worrying that the training was done with foreign donor funding from the US embassy and Unicef, because this meant the state was not budgeting for it.

"What happens if that funding disappears?"

Vetten said it was of concern that the justice department was reluctant to operate special courts to deal with sexual offences, because magistrates found it traumatising hearing only these cases.

"It suggests that the system is taking priority over the victims."

The committee resolved to call Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to report to it on the overall implementation of policy.

The law amendment creates new categories of sexual offences, recognises male rape and obliges the state to set up an integrated national register of sexual offenders.

The justice ministry said in December it had spent R5m capturing the names of sexual offenders convicted since mid-2009, and would start capturing past offenders.

Radebe said since the information would mostly come from the police, there would be delays as they needed to update their automated fingerprint information system to help with the process.
Read more on:    legislation  |  health

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