Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Cultural Practices and Children's Rights: The Case of Male Initiation in South Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Cultural Practices and Children's Rights: The Case of Male Initiation in South Africa

Article excerpt

Introduction

The dawn of the constitutional dispensation in South Africa introduced an era predicated on human rights. The country's Constitution (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108: 1996) introduced as a non-negotiable provision, the supremacy of the Constitution and subjected any law or conduct to passing the constitutional master (Sections 2 and 7 of the Constitution). As could be expected, many practices in South Africa would clash with these constitutional provisions. One such area is traditional and cultural practices. While there are many areas of tension between African traditional and/or cultural practices such as marriage, traditional healing, to mention just a few, this article focuses on initiation of male children which consistently causes considerable controversy in the country for reasons such as children being taken to initiation schools against their will and, in some cases, even without parental consent. While this raises issues regarding the human rights of the children affected, it is worsened by the alarming number of deaths that result from botched circumcisions at the initiation schools. Every year in South Africa, young boys lose their lives due to botched circumcision and some lose their manhood due to amputations, and young girls are subjected to female genital mutilations which affect their sexual organs. All these practices are carried out in the name of culture.

The questions to be asked are, are there sufficient monitoring mechanisms to ensure adherence to the legislative measures in place? Is it sufficient to address the challenges related to these harmful practices particularly male initiation through the law or other strategies need to be employed? These questions are informed by the unsuccessful attempts to regulate male initiation and curb the loss of life at the national level of government.

In 2013 it was reported that approximately 30 initiates in Mpumalanga and about 6 in Limpopo died due to blotched circumcision and about 38 were admitted in hospitals due to hydration and excessive bleeding. (Anon at www.citypress.co.za May 27, 2013) Though a task team was formed to investigate these deaths, a year later by the 4th of July 2014 the Deputy Minister of Traditional Affairs reported the death of 23 initiates and a further admission of 104 initiates at hospitals due to injuries related to circumcision. (Sapa: 2014 at www.sowetanlive. co.za/news 2014/07/04/initiation-death-toll-at 23)Despite the statues and regulations meant to curb the death and injuries of initiates and the prohibition of genital mutilation in terms of section 12(3) of the Children's Act, (38 of 2005) the statistics shows that in some areas of the country the fatalities are still continuing. Is it non-compliance to the law or lack of understanding thereof that is failing the boys seeking manhood?

This article, therefore, discusses the nature of the problems associated with the practice of male initiation, particularly in relation to children's rights within a democratic dispensation; obligations of the state, parents and guardians or care-givers at initiation schools. In addition to existing legislation in this regard, South Africa has ratified or signed many treaties protecting the rights of children and women. It is a member to international communities like United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Section 39(2) of the Constitution requires a court, tribunal or forum to consider international law in the interpretation of the Bill of Rights. The relevant articles in the ACRWC for the protection of initiates in the traditional practice of circumcision are Articles 16 and 21 respectively which states that children should be protected from all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and especially physical or mental injury or abuse, neglect or maltreatment and governments should do what they can to stop harmful social practices that affect the welfare and dignity of children. …

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