TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF LOVE IS KEY FOR CHILDREN IN CONFLICT

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By Teddy Gomba

  • The recent stabbing of a Grade Eight pupil in Ennerdale underscores the pressing issues of gangsterism and youth crime.
  • The Gauteng Department of Social Development focuses on rehabilitating detained children, offering educational programmes and family support to promote positive change.
  • Emphasising the need for restorative justice, the department aims to repair relationships between incarcerated youth, their victims, and the community, advocating for second chances.

Recently, a Grade Eight schoolboy at Oakdale Secondary School in Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg, tragically died after being stabbed in a fight between pupils outside the school. A fellow learner in Grade 10, also involved in the fight, was hospitalised. The fight was allegedly due to gangsterism among pupils from different schools in the area.

It is not unheard of for a child to be accused of committing a crime. Some of these children have done things that society cannot tolerate and for which society must find answers. Others have taken a path that calls out for restorative justice, rehabilitation, and a shift in the balance of their lives. Some have simply stolen to eat, provide for younger siblings, and survive.

No matter what type of crimes children commit, when they are arrested, they must be handled with care. Section 28 of the Constitution provides that a child under 18 years has a right not to be detained, except as a last resort. If a child is detained, it must be separately from adults. Detention can also refer to imprisonment after being convicted of a crime.

The Gauteng Department of Social Development is responsible for sentenced children and the safe custody of children awaiting trial. It runs two secure centres: the Walter Sisulu and Soshanguve Secure Care Centres. Currently, 90 children are detained at the Soshanguve Secure Care Centre.

Social workers at the centres report that the greatest preoccupation of the children is to get in touch with their families, and these long separations are a significant cause of unhappiness.

Last Saturday, the Soshanguve Secure Care Centre hosted a family day. Social worker Kgomotso Matlala said the day was organised for the children to reconnect with their families and inform them about the services provided to correct their behaviours. Matlala added that they were pleased with the family turnout. Some children are in regular touch with their families, but others have been moved so far away from home that nobody can afford to visit them.

“Sometimes, even though the families live close by, they do not come, and the children are unable to explain why. It might be that they are still angry about what they have done. For those whose families did not come, we will provide counselling.”

There were mixed emotions when parents of children in conflict with the law met with their families during family day at the centre.

Sarah Ngubane said, “We would have preferred to have him at home, but we know that is not possible. However, I am happy about the progress he has made in his life. My request is that the department assists them in using their detention productively, particularly for children, by ensuring there is education (junior, primary, and tertiary). I am happy that he is here. I can sleep at night knowing he is safe. When the police came, I gave him a Bible and said it would be his shield.”

Her 19-year-old son, Skhumbuzo Ngubane, who has been in detention since 2019, said, “I am now a better person than I was before coming here. I have been through a programme that allowed me to do self-introspection, and here I am safe. I have been taught to respect authority. I don’t know what would have happened outside. I am a person who likes to help people. I have been going to Bible classes. I wish to open a church and a shelter for the homeless.”

It is important that rehabilitation be coupled with restorative justice, repairing relationships between incarcerated persons, victims, and the community. The key to this is tackling the stigma and shame associated with criminality. This requires us to stop labelling. Everyone deserves a second chance, especially the youth.

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