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Media Statement: Briefing on Initiation Practices

ATTENTION: Editors and Reporters

28 May 2013

The South African Human Rights Commission is saddened to learn of the rising death toll of child initiates in both the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces. Of all of the guarantees enshrined within our Constitution, the right to life is the most fundamental. Once a person to whom the care of a child is entrusted reneges on their constitutional imperative to protect that child, it corrodes the very rudimentary aspects of the commitment we have made to them.

In terms of its mandate, the SAHRC is obliged to protect and assess the observance of human rights in South Africa and established to investigate prima facie violations of human rights as contained within the Bill of Rights, which is Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act, 108 of 1996.

The Commission asserts that no cultural, traditional or religious practices that place children at risk of losing their lives have any place in our current dispensation. While the Commission is respectful of the initiation process and the diverse convictions of the communities of South Africa, we condemn practices which could lead to the death, disfigurement , impairment of bodily integrity, impairment of dignity, violation of the right to health or healthcare, impairment of the rights of the child, or an undue limitation on the exercise of any other right. In order for a customary law practice to be considered valid and enforceable under the South African Constitution, the practice must be aligned to the rights in the Bill of Rights. It is submitted that any process that compromises the safety of a child to this extent can never be said to be constitutional.

Furthermore, it is submitted practices of this nature, and with these consequences, that are strictly condemned in international human rights instruments, meet the internationally recognised definition for violence against children, as well as the common law definitions for crimes such as murder and culpable homicide.

The SAHRC partnered in convening public hearings on initiation schools in 2010. Numerous recommendations were derived as to how these processes- particularly ritual circumcision- could be made safer. The Commission intends to enquire into the progress of the uptake of these recommendations and what further guidance is required in order to eliminate these harmful traditional and cultural practices.

The Commission recognises that there are many duty-bearers in this matter- from parents and care-givers, to those who convene initiation practices, and various government departments. We call upon all parties to take action in order to help ensure safety and health in these practices. The Commission is currently considering the best way forward in dealing with this situation. It is our hope that similarly-situated institutions are also mindful of the need to act swiftly so as to prevent further irreparable harm to young initiates.


Issued by:
Isaac Mangena
Head: Communications
SA Human Rights Commission

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