The Role of the Children’s Court

Compiled by Jessica Panday

The Children’s Court must be seen within the context of the number of Children’s laws passed in this country over the centuries and the changing perception of deviant behaviour in children.   Interestingly the original belief was that children were deviant because of their own making and possibly were born deviant.  This perception changed with new knowledge.  It was established that children are victims of circumstances and it is these circumstances that result in the various behaviour patterns displayed by children.  Accordingly it was felt that there was a need to adjust the environment so as to bring about behaviour modification in children.  A result of this belief is the fact that more attention is now paid to enhance facilities for children so that some compensation could be made for past experiences of neglect or abuse.   While new legislation is being considered in parliament there is much that society needs to do in order to assist these vulnerable children.  

The current legislation directing every court to ensure that a Children Court is Established is included in Act 74/1983. The Children’s Court consists of a Commissioner, a clerk and court assistant. The Commissioner generally is the presiding officer or Magistrate of the court. The matters that are placed before the court is brought to court by the clerk and court assistant. However prior to the matter even reaching court, a social worker would have investigated the circumstances of the child or children concerned and compiled a report for the Commissioner.
At these enquiries the Commissioner with the help of the Social Workers and the parties present will establish as to whether a child is in need of care Section 14(4) of the Act would assist to establish this. Once this is determined she/he would go on to make a decision whether the Children could be placed in foster placement, a children’s home or a school of industries.
Foster placement is when children are placed with families, not necessarily their own who have been screened and deemed to be suitable to care for children. Children placed in children’s home generally when there is need for them to be placed in a more structured environment. Children that are placed in Schools of Industries are the children that are difficult to control and may not be suitable for foster placement or at a Children’s Home. These reports are temporary orders and are aimed at reunifying the children and parents by giving them assistance.
The court also deals with Adoptions. Adoptions are orders that are permanent wherein children are placed in alternative family care with the intention of those custodians having full custody, control and guardianship of the child. This process entails the parents of the child having to give their Consent to the Commissioner for the child to be adopted. The Commissioner upon application may then make her/his description with the aid of a social worker as to whether the child may be adopted.
The policies of the Department of Justice Dictate that these children that appear before the court must feel as comfortable as possible and not intimidated. However due to the lack of accommodation the children that came to the Chatsworth Court often had to wait amongst the accused awaiting their matter in the criminal courts. Thus the department in a joint venture with the Magistrates office in Chatsworth has erected prefab structures away from the criminal court for these families to appear in a friendly and comfortable environment to make these enquiries as less traumatic as it possibly can. Within the structure there is a play area for the children whilst there is no Magistrates bench. Further just outside there is a play area where the children play on the swings and jungle gym.
The new court was launched in September this year. The day was commemorated with entertainment  from the children of the Aryan Benevolent Homes, together with guest speakers Mrs Linda Naidoo, Director of Childline, Mrs Pat Moodley, Director of Family Services of the Department of Justice, Mr HB Singh of Love to Live and Mrs Z Pienaar, the Head of the Emlazi cluster of the Magistrates offices. The event was attended by a number of schools as well as a number of NGO ’s , CBO’s and Governmental organizations.