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The Role and Functions of the Children’s Court in South Africa

In South Africa, the Children’s Court stands as a beacon of specialized justice, meticulously designed to address legal matters concerning the country’s most vulnerable population – children. Established under the Children’s Act 35 of 2005 and amended by the Children’s Amendment Act 17 of 2022, the Children’s Court plays an important role in ensuring the protection and well-being of children.

What is the purpose of the Children’s Court?

Every Magistrate’s Court in South Africa is a Children’s Court. The Children’s Court can be seen as a special court that deals with issues affecting children. It has the authority to decide on matters involving children who are abandoned, neglected, or abused.

In terms of Section 23 of the Children’s Act 35 of 2005 any person who has an interest in a child to apply to the Children’s Court for an order for care or contact with the child.

Section 24 of the Children’s Act 35 of 2005 has been amended by the Children’s Amendment Act 17 of 2022 to provide the Children’s Court with jurisdiction over matters concerning guardianship. What this means is that any person who has an interest in the care and development of the child can now also apply to the Children’s Court for an order granting guardianship of the child, whereas previously only the High Court had jurisdiction over such matters. This involves the assignment, exercise, extension, restriction, suspension, or termination of guardianship in relation to a child.

In terms of the amended Section 45, the Children’s Court decides on any matter that involves the protection and well-being of a child, care, contact with or guardianship of the child, paternity, and support of the child, temporary safe care of the child, adoption, and matters dealing with a child and youth care center or any other facility purporting to be a care facility for children.

The Children’s Court may also hear matters dealing with the maltreatment, abuse, neglect, degradation, or exploitation of children. However, it is important to mention that the Children’s Court is not a criminal court and matters of a criminal nature are referred to the appropriate criminal court.

Who can approach the Children’s Court?

The child concerned may approach the Children’s Court himself or herself, alternatively, anyone who is acting in the best interest of the child or on behalf of the child may approach the Children’s Court.

The Children’s Act 35 of 2005 places an obligation on certain people to report cases of potential child abuse, these people include dentists, teachers, social workers, lawyers, ministers of religion, nurses, midwives, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, medical practitioners, and traditional leaders

After the initial report of abuse, the Children’s Courts will look at the available evidence and based upon that it may start the process wherein a social worker will be appointed to represent the child’s interests and ensure their temporary safety while assisting to ascertain the merits of the reported case.

After the merits of the reported case have been established, the Children’s Court will hold closed hearings wherein the child may give evidence from another room via video or with a lawyer’s assistance. Once the inquiry is complete, the Children’s Court will make the appropriate order in the best interest of the child.

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