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Thursday 17th of October 2019

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Ms. Julia Sloth-Nielsen. Senior professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of the Western Cape (UWC). South Africa

Monday 21st of October 2013 | International, South Africa

Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen speaks about the children's rights current reforms, in many African legal systems, slowly being implemented. Although progress is evident, the expert believes that there is still much to be done because  legal frameworks are very recent and there is a need for review if needed so restorative practice could be implemented. However, Professor Sloth is optimistic and emphasizes, therefore, the work done by both the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) and by the Children's Rights Project of the Community Law Centre at the University Western Cape which she led for nearly 20 years.


- As a Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of the Western Cape, which recent research and activities have you undertaken in the field of children’s rights, and law reform in Africa?

I have recently written a chapter on the 2012 Law of the Child of Angola, and undertaken a mission to Malawi to examine their Justice for Children programme. I have also written a chapter on the communications procedure under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and I am busy working on an annotated bibliography on child headed households.

- Over the last 20 years, you have managed the Children's Rights Project of the Community Law Centre at the University of Western Cape. What obstacles and progresses would you underline?

I left the Community Law Centre in 2001 when I was appointed to a chair in the Faculty of Law, although I am still a research associate at the Children’s Rights Project of the Centre. The Community Law Centre celebrated its 20th anniversary recently. An ongoing challenge for the centre is that staff are almost all donor funded and projects have to constantly raise money for their continued existence. However, the Centre has an excellent reputation across the continent and even further afield, and the Centre continues to attract donor support. 

- What is your assessment of legal frameworks in Africa that address children’s rights? How do you think Restorative justice has been incorporated within child justice system in Africa?

The legal frameworks in many countries are quite recent (South Africa, 2010, Lesotho, 2011, Malawi, 2011, Botswana, 2009) and I think all countries are at the initial stages of implementation. There are many lessons that can be shared across borders, though, and restorative justice is one such area where a great deal more capacity building can be achieved. South Africa’s Child Justice Act is a great example of how restorative justice has been legislatively provided for, but questions can be asked about how much restorative practice is actually taking place. Considerable expertise in managing restorative processes existed while the Act was being developed, but many key people have moved on and it is generally believed that the expertise has not been replaced.

- In your point of view how has international law influenced on South Africa’s Juvenile Justice Reform process?

I wrote an entire doctoral thesis on this very topic 13 years ago, and I believe that international law has been crucial, not only because aspects of international law have been constitutionalised in the Bill of Rights which is justiciable. In particular, the principle that deprivation of liberty must be used only as a last resort and then for the shortest appropriate period of time has given rise to a number of legal challenges, including at the level of the Constitutional Court. This has resulted in life imprisonment for juveniles being declared to be in violation of the Constitution. 

- Concerning your expertise as a Member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) which is the committee main concerns about juvenile justice in the continent and  which  activities has been undertaken by the Committee with regards to this issue?

 My ‘portfolio’ on the African Committee is actually birth registration and not juvenile justice. The Committee attended the Kampala conference on juvenile justice hosted by DCI and the African Child Policy Forum in November 2011, and regularly comments on juvenile justice issues in response to state party reports. The Committee is of course concerned about children in prisons and other forms of custody, as well as about children imprisoned with their mothers (about which there is a dedicated article in the Charter, article 30). The Committee has prepared a General Comment on this article, which will be released shortly. It is the first general Comment that the Committee will issue.

 - The African Charter on the Rights and welfare of Child (ACRWC) in its article 13 “recognizes the rights of children with mental disabilities to special measures of protection in keeping with their ‘physical and moral’ needs and in environments that respect their dignity”. The IJJO is highly concerned about mental health needs of young offenders. Could you please explain us how mental health needs of young offenders are handled in South Africa juvenile justice system?

There is great concern amongst role players about the general lack of options for young offenders who have mental healthy needs or who display signs of requiring mental health interventions. There is a general lack of facilities (such as beds for youth in psychiatric hospitals), and mental health professionals are also in short supply in the public health system. There is also concern about the Child Justice Act’s requirements related to proof of criminal capacity of children aged between 10 and 14 years, with mental health professionals arguing that they cannot adjudicate on criminal capacity but only on the mental health issues they have been trained to report on.  

- To sum up, what are the areas of research on child’s right in Africa that you feel are not being given the attention they deserve? What do you think is missing?

Generally, there is a need in many countries for more research on children in alternative care, I believe. This is important in the context of the rise in the number of intercountry adoptions from Africa, and the need to ensure that domestic alternatives are not available or suitable.

The same concern applies to children in the juvenile justice system who are sent to alternative institutions. There is need to debate what rehabilitation is occurring at these institutions and whether they are appropriate in the African context, as well as why children are sentenced to these alternatives.


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    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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