Children need special protection by the law because they are among the most vulnerable members of society. They are dependent on others - their parents and families, or the state - for care and protection. In 1959, the United Nations' adopted the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child, providing a comprehensive set of guidelines toward the recognition children's rights.
South African children especially suffered under apartheid. Some were detained without trial, tortured and assaulted. Many were deprived of access to adequate housing, health care and education.
Our Bill of Rights therefore states that in every matter which concerns a child, the child's best interests are the most important consideration. In addition, each child sentence needs to be considered individually, with the provisions of the section constantly in mind. This requirement was brought to light in the case of the Centre for Child Law v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and Others.
1. Every child has the right
- to a name and a nationality from birth;
- to family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment;
- to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services;
- to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation;
- to be protected from exploitative labour practices;
- not to 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 to 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
- treated in a manner, and kept in conditions, that take account of the child's age;
- to 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 to 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.)