TAC Electronic Newsletter


Defend the rights and health of children - Stop damaging ammendments to the Children's Bill


23 November 2005

Write to Joyce Masilo, Chair of Select Committe on Social Services, c/o, Arico Kotze, Committee Secretary, Select Committee on Social Services stating that:


The Department of Social Development and the Children's Bill Steering Committee proposed on 25 October to raise the minimum age of consent to medical treatment from 12 to 14 years, and the minimum age of access to contraceptives from 12 to 14, or alternatively 16, years of age.  Submissions from the AIDS Law Project, Children's Rights Centre, Children's Institute and other organisatings representing the rights of children have argued  against the proposals in the interest of protecting the human rights of children, whose access to the health system will be impaired if the proposals are passed into law. According to the current version of the law, a child above the age of 12 may consent to medical treatment and should not be refused access to contraceptives (both condoms and alternative forms).

Age is not the sole determinant of access to testing and treatment. The child must be of sufficient maturity to understand the benefits, risks and social  and other implications of  such testing or medical treatment without parental supervision. If a child below 12 is deemed mature and well-informed enough about the decision, they may also be given access to contraceptive and medical treatment without parental supervision.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which South Africa ratified in 1995, affirms that children should be involved in decision-making processes so as to have full and equal access to the health system. Partly due to the effect of the HIV epidemic, traditional family structures in South Africa are undergoing rapid change. There are substantial rises in numbers of orphans and child-headed households. A recent study by the Reproductive Health Research Unit of the University of the Witwatersrand also found that children are having sex at a younger age, there are a higher number of unwanted pregnancies and that many young people may not be comfortable discussing sexuality openly with their parents. Therefore, consultation with parents should be encouraged, but not required by law. Increasing the age of consent also prevents quick access to post-exposure prophylaxis and the “morning-after pill”, which are especially necessary measures in a country with a high rate of sexual violence.

The proposed ammendment to the Children's Bill does not only endanger the human rights of children between the ages of 12 and 14, it also contradicts other pieces of legislation that affirm children's independence and decision-making abilities. For example, the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act has no age limitation.  The Children's Bill itself provides that a child may decide if it wishes to be adopted if it is at least 10 years old, or if it is under 10 years and has the maturity to make such a decision. The Aids Law Project, Children's Rights Centre, Children's Institute and other children's organisations therefore have called for the original recommendations of the Law Commission on s.129 and s.134 of the Children's Bill to be preserved. The age of consent to medical treatment and the age of consent to contraception should stay at 12 years of age.

Fax Joyce Masilo, Chair of Select Committe on Social Services, c/o, Arico Kotze at 021 403 2808 to express disapproval of the proposed ammendments.

Suggested form of letter:

Dear Chairperson

We oppose the increase of the age of consent from 12 to 14 for medical treatment, access to contraceptives and access to HIV counselling and testing as proposed to s.129, s. 130, s. 133 and s.134 of the Children's Bill. We endorse the AIDS Law Project, Children's Institute and Children's Rights Centre submissions in this regard, which we understand you have received.

Yours sincerely

[Your name]

The AIDS Law Project's submission can be found here.
Useful information on the Children's Bill and other issues related to children can be found on the Children's Institute website.

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