Forced removal of begging women and children off city streets

Posted on August 17, 2010

We are committed to protect children’s rights and to act in their best interest. We strongly oppose the manner in which the operation has been conducted in the name of ‘child protection’.

We support a full investigation into children being exploited by beggars and the prosecution of perpetrators. However, we question the action without significant evidence based on a thorough investigation and assessment whether the children were in any immediate danger or at risk. The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 as amended is a mechanism to protect children and to ensure that interventions will be in their best interest. We regret that the Children’s Act has been misused to justify the forceful and traumatic removal of children in the absence of evidence whether they were in immediate danger.

We further regret that the broader picture of the socio-economic and political context was not investigated by inquiring why the parents were on the street with their children. It was clear that no distinction was made between so called ‘beggars’ and a man desperately attempting to survive by earning money in the informal sector by repairing shoes. Children, women and people who live in poverty are equally vulnerable and exposed to being exploited. Living and surviving on the street is a much more complex phenomenon than mere vagrancy and begging. These are sometimes desperate attempts to avoid falling prey to human trafficking (including children) and crime, and are symptoms of poverty and inequality in our society. The public has great sympathy with people’s suffering and in a way, maintains the pattern of begging through their contributions intended to bring relief. “Cleaning-up” operations should form part of anti-poverty strategies and interventions in our society that will address social ills in a holistic and integrated manner.

We also distance ourselves from the unprofessional conduct of the social workers involved in the removal process who allowed that the privacy, dignity and rights of both children and parents be violated and exploited in the media. This is even more disturbing in that a social worker acknowledged that there ‘was no chance for counselling and that some of the children may have been traumatised’ (Beeld, 14 August 2010). Children and parents could have been taken together to a safe place for an investigation of their circumstances and for counselling before decisions were made on actions to be taken.

We are committed to train social workers who protect the rights of children as well as those of all other vulnerable groups in society; to at all times treat people with respect and dignity, and to act professionally in accordance with the ethical code of behaviour of the profession.

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