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Civic groups slam children’s Bill

Bongiwe Zihlangu

 MASERU — Civic groups have ganged up against the Children’s Protection and Welfare Bill 2010 which passed its second reading in parliament on Wednesday saying the proposed law had omitted critical provisions originally included in a 2005 draft.

They say, for instance, the Bill has left out the “the right to refuse betrothal and marriage”.

“This omission detracts from the relevant provision on the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child,” the civic groups say.

“The consequence is that a girl will continue to be subjected to forced marriages through abduction and other parental pressures, contrary to her best interests.”

The landmark Bill, which passed its second reading in the National Assembly on Wednesday, was first tabled by Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa on May 5.

It was then referred to the portfolio committee on the social cluster for consideration.

The Bill’s third and final reading will take place when parliament resumes sitting after the independence vacation on October 11.

The civic groups’ concerns are contained in a report compiled by parliament’s portfolio committee on social welfare matters.

The coalition is made up of 29 organisations which include among others the Juvenile Training Centre, Transformation Resource Centre, United Nations Children’s Fund, Lesotho Durham Link, Lesotho Girl Guides Association, Lesotho National Council of Women, Maseru Senior Citizens Association, SOS Children’s Village, Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association and Lesotho Save the Children.

They also argue that there are differences between the 2005 draft and the current Bill on how to handle adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health issues.

Section 233 (1) of the Bill says “no child may be tested for HIV except when this is in the best interest of the child and consent has been given under sub-section (2)”.

Section 233 (2) cites that consent for HIV testing on a child may be given by the child “if the child is twelve years or older”.

“The inclusive provisions of Section 233 of the 2010 draft is a reversal of the policy strides in the areas of adolescent’s sexual and reproductive health rights elaborately provided for under the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the civic groups said.

The coalition is also of the opinion that the Bill does not cater for a provision to convict “for child neglect”.

“Failure to maintain a child is not made a criminal offence in Part XXIII of this Bill despite the existence of the 1959 Deserted Wives and Proclamation (Amended by Act No.1 of 1977),” says the report.

“It is therefore a retrogressive step not to criminalise failure to maintain a child.”

Section 21(1) of Part XXIII under “Maintenance of Children” simply says it is the responsibility of parents “to care for their children”.  

“A parent or any other person who is liable to maintain a child or contribute towards the maintenance of the children is under duty to supply food, clothing, health, life, basic education and shelter,” it reads in part.

The Lesotho School Principals Association said the Bill was “not written with schools in mind”.

“As a result the Bill has no provisions for complex situations, such as at school, where the rights of one child may conflict with the rights of many others,” says the report.

The Ministry of Education and Training said while it appreciated the Bill, it objected to the fact that clauses within the Bill failed to “provide for accountability”.

“Clauses 18 and 19 fail to show the responsibility of a parent or guardian and that of a child, in terms of taking the child to school and being responsible to go to school,” it says.

“The provision on fines to care providers should also apply to teachers at schools because at the time children are at school teachers automatically become their care providers.”

The ministry further suggested that as care providers teachers should also be made fully aware of “rehabilitation and restorative justice” so that treatment given to children is the same countrywide.

“Again, information on sexual abuse and health information should not only be provided to victims of abuse but to children in general, whether at schools or outside their premises,” it says.

A member of the social cluster portfolio committee, Sello Maphalla, who is also the Lesotho Workers Party deputy leader, told the Sunday Express on Friday that the portfolio committee shared the views “of the civic groups and other stakeholders”.

“We share similar sentiments with civic organisations regarding the apparent omission of vital information in the Bill that could easily lead to complications if passed as is,” Maphalla said.

“As the committee we were also of the opinion that there were important parts which appear in the original draft but have been dropped in the current version of the Bill.

“I know more about this Bill as I have been part of it from its inception in 2001.”

Maphalla added that his committee had approached Mahase-Moiloa over these concerns.

“We showed her the previous drafts of the Bill and it seemed like she also understood the situation. I am optimistic that they will be included in the final version,” Maphalla said.

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