Bill makes circumcision an assault

News  Pretoria News (Pretoria, South Africa). Thursday, 16 June 2005.

Sheena Adams

A Bill outlawing virginity testing ­and making parents and doctors liable to charges of assault for circumcising children is one step closer to enactment.

The Children's Bill was finalised by the External link National Assembly's social development committee this week and includes a number of controversial clauses. At least one opposition party voted against the Bill's adoption, saying the version finalised by the portfolio committee was watered down compared to previous drafts.

The External link African Christian Democratic Party has complained about clauses which allow 12-year-old children to undergo abortions and buy condoms.

ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley also said a lack of consultation between the departments of Justice and Social Development over the Bill had proven to be a stumbling block for the committee.

This was confirmed during a visit by the Minister of Social Development, Zola Skweyiya, and the Deputy Minister of Justice, External link Johnny de Lange, to a meeting of the portfolio committee. The committee was told that amendments made by the committee, apart from those submitted by Justice would not be entertained and must be scratched.

Apparently the deputy minister of justice had very belatedly become aware of the work being done on the Bill which would affect the justice committee, she said.

The instruction to MPs was apparently in reference to some of the definitions in the Bill dealing with parental obligations and custody issues which, if passed, would repeal regulations passed by the Justice Department.

The department did not respond to calls on Wednesday. Maria Mabetoa, chief director responsible for children's rights in the External link Department of Social Development, also refrained from commenting.

The Bill says no person may refuse to sell condoms to children older than 12 and that other contraceptives may be provided to children on request and without the consent of caregivers or parents.

This is, however, premised on the fact that proper medical advice be given to the child beforehand. Under the heading Social and Cultural Practices, the Bill also outlaws virginity testing, putting it in the same league as female circumcision and saying that children have the right not to be subjected to cultural and social practices which are detrimental to the well-being, health or dignity of the child.

It adds that taking into consideration the age, maturity and stage of development of a male child, he has the right to refuse circumcision.

A male child that was subjected to circumcision against his will may lay a charge of assault, indecent assault or assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm, as the case may be, against the person that performed the circumcision or a person that is under an obligation to protect that child from maltreatment, abuse or degradation and failed to fulfil this obligation, it says.

With 11-million children living on less than R200 a month, according to child rights groups, they had argued for the Bill to include a comprehensive social security scheme as well as an overarching national policy framework, something that appeared in the first version of the Bill drawn up by the External link South Africa Law Reform Commission.


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