CHILD JUSTICE SECTION
CHILDREN IN CONFILCT WITH THE LAW
The mandate of the section is to ensure effective and efficient management of young offenders by prosecutors. These children are sometimes called children in conflict with the law. According to our Constitution, they are children from 0 to 18 years. The age of criminal capacity in South African Law is 7 years, so we are talking about children from 7 to 18 years. In South Africa, we have decided not to use the term juveniles when talking about juvenile offenders, it has a negative connotation of labeling them as criminals; hence we use children to be in line with Section 28 of our Constitution.
We believe that children who have committed petty offences should not be prosecuted, but on acknowledging responsibility for the crime, they should be referred by courts to rehabilitative programmes. They are held accountable for their actions, and are able to be reintegrated to their families, communities and schools without incurring criminal records. They are offered an opportunity to change their lives instead of going deeper in the criminal justice system and become hardened criminals. The idea is to move from a purely punitive approach, to a rehabilitative approach. Diversion should not be seen as a soft option for children. Since July 1999 until December 2005, NPA has done 115,582 diversions.
Not all children are afforded the opportunity of diversion., Those who have committed serious offences are prosecuted in a manner that takes into account their age.
3. CHILDREN AWAITING TRIAL
We are responsible for reducing the number of children awaiting trial in custody. There are many options that are being utilized. Children are given to the custody of their parents, appropriate adults or guardians when they are awaiting trial. When they are released on bail, it is on the basis that they can afford bail. Some of these children are sent to Welfare facilities, such as places of safety, where there are secure care facilities. We are promoting the provisions of Section 28 (1) (g) of the Constitution, that children must be kept in prison or correctional facilities, as a measure of last resort. In the absence of legislation dealing specifically with young offenders and while we are waiting for the enactment of Child Justice Bill of 2002, all the relevant stakeholders have developed an interim National Protocol on the Management of Children Awaiting Trial. The establishment of local Case Review Teams, where teams led by prosecutors deal with individual cases,is meant to ensure that those children are released from prisons. The teams have successfully reduced the number of children awaiting trial in prison, especially in the Eastern Cape. The NPA is rolling the Case Review Teams to other provinces, and the DPPs are in charge of the teams in their respective provinces. Through the intersectoral collaboration with our stakeholders, as government we have managed to reduce the number of children awaiting trial in the country.
4. SKILLS DEVELOPMENT
To equip prosecutors with necessary skills to deal effectively with young offenders, the section is conducting multi-disciplinary training of prosecutors together with probation officers/social workers and police officers on child justice. The total number of 403 delegates has received training in this regard.