New law helps ET murder accused

By admin
16 April 2010

Two days after the enactment of new legislation that affects children who run into trouble with the law a 15-year-old was arrested in connection with the brutal murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche. The teenager and 27-year-old Chris Mahlangu face several charges, including murder and aggravated robbery.

The trial might ordinarily have damning consquences for a young life but under the new Child Justice Act he might be spared even a jail sentence.

Many experts agree the legislation was necessary because it meets not only constitutional requirements but also international guidelines for the treatment of under-age offenders.

But others – among them grieving families of victims of crime – wonder whether young offenders will be treated too leniently in future.

The aim of the Child Justice Act is ‘‘primarily to try to keep children out of the criminal justice system,’’ Carina du Toit of Pretoria University’s Centre for Child Law says.

The intention isn’t to avoid holding children – such as the Terre’Blanche murder suspect – responsible for serious crimes. ‘‘It’s certainly not the case that children will be able to ‘get away with anything’,’’ she says. Instead the law is aimed at ‘‘early intervention to largely diminish the chances of reoffending’’.

The constitutional principle that imprisonment of minors should be the very last option, and for only the shortest appropriate time, is now reflected in the law for the first time.

A strong focus on restorative justice and community-service sentencing encourages offenders to accept responsibility for their actions and pay for them; and victims will be part of the process, Du Toit explains.

Restorative justice is aimed at assimilating children into the community again and there are many ways to help them to become law-abiding citizens, Lorenzo Wakefield says. The researcher at the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape adds that in practice many challenges lie ahead ‘‘but it’s a great advancement for children’s rights’’.

* Read more on the new law in the 22 April issue of YOU.

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