Lawyers for Human Rights: Overhaul of sexual offences registry will not work

2019-09-14 13:54
Photo Jay Caboz.

Photo Jay Caboz.

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

The focus on the dangerously high rates of violence against women and children in South Africa has compelled South Africans to call on the president and government to take stronger action, specifically regarding the national registry of sexual offenders (NRSO).

The registry has been brought into the spotlight with President Cyril Ramaphosa's address to the nation last week, announcing, among other interventions, an overhaul of the current registry as it stands.

"We are going to overhaul and modernise the national register of gender-based violence offenders provided for in the Sexual Offences Act to ensure it is effective in combating gender-based violence," Ramaphosa said.

He added the overhaul would include adding all men convicted of "acts of violence" against women and children to the registry.

"I will ask Parliament to consider amending the legislation to make the register public," Ramaphosa added.

However, Sanja Bornman, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights, says she is concerned that more money would be wasted on a completely ineffectual registry.

Speaking to News24, Bornman explained: "We do not believe that making the current register public would pass constitutional muster. In any event, the current register is woefully incomplete, and has been maintained and managed exceptionally poorly since day one, despite significant financial cost."

The registry was established in 2007 as part of the Sexual Offences Act to curb sexual offences in South Africa.

However, this is only accessible to potential employers, as well as public or private institutions like schools, creches and hospitals.

It is currently not accessible to the public. 

'Registry will not be a solution'

It is also limited to people who are convicted of sexual offences against minors and people with mental disabilities and it is aimed at ensuring people who have been convicted of sexual offences do not work with children or mentally disabled people, or that they cannot adopt children.

Bornman said that the problem lies in actually convicting sexual offenders in the first place.

"To me, the most compelling argument for not wasting any additional money on the register, is that a person's name only goes on the register once they have been caught, investigated, tried, and convicted.

"Yet this is precisely where South Africa's problem is. We do not catch and convict the vast majority or perpetrators. The NPA boasts a conviction rate of 78% in the 2018/19 financial year, but few people understand that this is only a percentage of the very small number of cases that actually made it to court. It is not 78% of all reported cases," Bornman said.

She added: "On top of that, we know that reporting is extremely bad, with only between one in nine, and one in 25 cases actually being reported to the police. These problems are where attention, investment, and innovation are needed most."

The overhaul of the registry Ramaphosa envisions, Bornman says, will not be a solution.

"Not only will it not solve the current crisis, it will waste precious resources that could be much better spent fixing the criminal justice system for survivors."

Instead, she added, there should be a focus on pumping resources into support for survivors. 

"The only way to improve conviction rates is to make sure we have as many properly-resourced specialised sexual offences courts as possible.

"We also need to invest in quality support services for survivors, such as Thuthuzela Care Centres, shelters, and counselling services. This is important for survivors' healing, but also for interrupting the cycle of violence, especially where children are concerned."

SA should be careful of falling into trap of short-term solutions

According to justice ministry spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, there could be an amendment in place to ensure that the registry applies to sexual offenders generally, and not just those who have committed sexual offences against children and people with mental disabilities.

The amendment could soon be going to Parliament, who could decide to make the registry public.

When the time comes for Parliament to look at the bill, there would be a chance for the public to have their own input into the matter through a parliamentary process.

Bornman, however, added that South Africa should be careful of falling into a trap of short-term solutions.

"The collective anger of society, in relation to the horrific violence against women and children day in and day out, is right and good. We should all be filled with rage and use it to hold our State accountable. But we should be very careful of calling for interventions that sound and feel good now, but will ultimately change nothing, and potentially damage our democracy.

"Time is up for things that we know do not work, and things that waste money. This crisis is far too urgent for that."

Read more on:    crime  |  gender based violence  |  judiciary

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.