By Cuma Pantshwa and Justice Malapane

  • South Africa celebrates 30 years of freedom as the Department of Social Development launches Child Protection Week on May 19, 2024, reflecting on the nation’s journey in safeguarding children’s rights.
  • Colonial and apartheid laws, like the Group Areas Act and Bantu Local Authorities Act, enforced racial segregation and discrimination, denying Black, Coloured, and Indian communities access to basic services and dignity.
  • The democratic government prioritised child rights, enshrining them in the Constitution and implementing laws like the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. President Mandela’s commitment to children’s welfare led to the release of unjustly incarcerated minors and marked a pivotal shift in child protection services.

This year marks South Africa’s 30 years of freedom and democracy. As the Department of Social Development launches Child Protection Week on May 19, 2024, it’s a moment to reflect on the nation’s journey in safeguarding the rights of children.

During South Africa’s deliberate transformation, ensuring the protection and upholding of human rights, especially those of children, became a key priority. Previous laws, influenced by colonial and apartheid systems, enforced racial segregation and discrimination in service provision.

Notably, laws like the Group Areas Act, Bantu Local Authorities Act, and the 1923 Native Areas Act enforced segregation in urban residential areas and restricted black individuals’ access to cities through “influx controls.”

All of these and other pieces of legislation had a detrimental impact on the lives of Blacks, Coloureds, and Indian communities. They were discriminated against because of their colour and categorized as minority groups, denying them access to basic services such as clean water, quality education, and their right to dignity.

The South African family was disintegrated; separated through migrant labour laws leaving children with one or no caregiver or parent. 

In its pursuit to uphold human rights and dignity, the democratic government prioritised the development of the Constitution, which was enacted in 1996. Section 28 of the Bill of Rights guarantees children their fundamental rights, including the right to a name, citizenship, education, care, and support.

Children require food, shelter, and protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse, or degradation, as well as from exploitative labour practices, to ensure their development and survival.

Upon assuming office, President Nelson Mandela committed to fostering a people-centred society and addressing the needs of children and young people. He emphasized their critical role in the nation’s future, stating, “The youth of our country are the valued possession of the nation. Without them, there can be no future. Their needs are immense and urgent. They are at the centre of our reconstruction and development plan.”

To underscore the government’s dedication to children’s rights, in his inaugural State of the Nation Address, President Mandela ordered the release of children who had been unjustly incarcerated by the previous regime.

Before 2005, children’s services were governed by the Child Care Act. However, this legislation underwent a significant overhaul and was replaced by the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. This introduction marked a pivotal shift in the approach to child protection services, placing the best interests of all children at the forefront.

The implementation of strengthened child protection measures included the introduction of services aimed at the care and protection of children. These initiatives aimed to support orphans, vulnerable children, and those in need of care and protection.

As South Africa commemorates 30 years of freedom and democracy, Minister of Social Development Ms Lindiwe Zulu will inaugurate the Child Protection Week campaign. This initiative seeks to both reflect on the country’s progress and promote the fundamental rights of children.

Government investment in children spans various sectors, including education, healthcare, access to clean water, and electricity. Notably, it boasts the largest social assistance program dedicated to safeguarding children.

This year, the campaign has been moved forward due to the national elections and will be commemorated under the theme: “Protecting South African Children, 30 years on”.

South Africa is bound by international obligations outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which mandate the country to ensure the welfare and protection of every child within its borders.


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