I am a diehard South African. I am the number one defence force for this country, its beauty and its people. When I was an intern at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva, the running joke was that I would marry an American or a European but that according to the terms and conditions -– you know, the ones that no one reads when they buy an app or update their software –- the man would have to be willing to move to South Africa and learn Tshivenda. Little did I know that while I was selling everyone on South Africa, convincing people that our next reunion has to be in South Africa, the South African government was screwing up... again.
A friend of mine was the intern for the Committee on the Rights of the Child and she was so excited because South Africa was going to sit before the Committee for the upcoming session. When she told me about the session, I thought, "thank goodness, I wont have to defend the State this time cause as far as I know, we are good on children's rights". I was relieved because I had spent my time trying to explain #FEESMUSTFALL and the hair protests at Pretoria High School for Girls and I was exhausted, so I was excited to have my colleagues come up to me and tell me that South Africa's session was one of the easier ones cause there aren't as many issues as everywhere else. Sadly, that was not the result. It became apparent to me that the failure of the South African government does not begin at the age of 18 when you make the shift from child to young adult. It seems that South Africa simply fails its young people from a young age.
From the moment the session started, my illusions were shattered. Firstly, South Africa's State report was 10 years late. South Africa's State report was due in 2002 but was only submitted in 2014. Not even African time can excuse this type of tardiness. Secondly, various NGO reports were submitted. These reports highlighted several issues that us as South Africans are not talking about. The report by Human Rights Watch highlighted the lack of inclusive education for children with disabilities and the fact that there are so many children with disabilities who are not in school. A failure on the part of the government to provide education to young people in South Africa? Ringing any bells? I felt a light headache coming on.
Then the widely discussed issue of how poorly South Africa treats migrants came up. It soon became apparent that we don't even know how to treat migrant children. Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Centre both submitted reports on the right of a child to acquire nationality. The reports highlighted the fact the there is a refusal to register the birth of children born to undocumented foreign parents. The report outlines the various reasons for the lack of documentation such as the refusal by the Refugee Reception Office in Cape Town to receive new applications for asylum because the Department of Home Affairs is attempting to close the office. Even in instances where the parents have evidence to the fact that the child was born in in South Africa, the children remain unregistered.
Another issue of concern to the Committee was the harmful social and cultural practices such as male circumcision, virginity testing and child marriage. NGO report by the NGO International Intersex Human Rights stated that circumcision schools do not always comply with the Children's Act. There was even a report submitted which dealt with Intersex Genital Mutilation. Intersex Genital Mutilation includes the non-consensual, medically unnecessary, irreversible, cosmetic surgeries, and/or other harmful medical treatments that would not be considered for "normal" children, without evidence of benefit for the children concerned, but justified by societal and cultural norms and beliefs. Typical forms of IGM include "masculinising" and "feminising", "corrective" genital surgery, sterilising procedures, imposition of hormones, forced genital exams, vaginal dilations, medical display, human experimentation and denial of needed health care. All typical IGM forms are still practised in South Africa today. Parents and children are misinformed, kept in the dark, sworn to secrecy, kept isolated and denied appropriate support.
And of course, because it is South Africa, the issue of sexual violence against children also came up was added to the long list of issues. In light if reports outlining shocking statistics such as the fact that 20% of children report an experience of sexual abuse before the age of 18; 53,617 sexual offences between April 2014 and March 2015, in excess of 147 a day.
It is safe to say I left that session disappointed, not only in the State, but also in myself for being so ignorant to these issues. South Africa is supposed to be a leader and champion of human rights in South Africa but as of late, I am not so sure that we deserve that title and I do not believe that the government is making a genuine attempt at keeping that title.
By the end of the session, I just wanted to scream out another one of my famous one liners I was known for in the office: "when will we be free?" Seriously though...this is a question that needs answers.
For more information, Please see www.ohchr.org