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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 251
Paragraph Numbers 6 to
A culture of human rights and children’s rights
6 In 1995, South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an important step towards securing South Africa’s rightful place in the world community of nations. The CRC imposes important obligations and responsibilities on its signatories, including that of “honouring the voice” of children and youth, by giving them an opportunity to express their feelings and relate their experiences as part of the national process of healing.
Participation of children under eighteen years of age
7 In terms of the CRC, a child is a person under the age of eighteen years of age and is entitled to special protection by government and society. A critical debate arose before the hearings as to whether or not children under the age of eighteen should appear and testify at the hearings. It was felt that the formal structure of the hearings might intimidate children and subject them to additional trauma. In order to discuss this issue, the Commission held a series of meetings and workshops and sought the opinions of international organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and over thirty South African NGOs working with children and youth. The final decision of the Commission was that children under the age of eighteen would not testify. Instead, NGOs and other professional people working with children were asked to testify on their behalf. The Commission did, however, make extensive efforts to involve children directly in the hearings and in the collection of data before the hearings.
8 The special hearings on children and youth were held regionally. Each regional office hosted a hearing for the area covered by that office.
9 Throughout the country, school children participated in the hearings and listened to the evidence presented. At the KwaZulu-Natal/Free State hearing, school children from a number of schools presented a play and other schools performed songs. A dramatic presentation by school children of the Soweto uprising was a highlight of the hearing hosted by the Johannesburg office, moving members of the audience to tears. This hearing was opened by Ms Graça Machel, chairperson of the UNICEF Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, who brought an important international perspective on this issue. In the Eastern Cape, musical presentations by school choirs assisted in the process of reconciliation while, in Cape Town, three high school students read a submission by Pamela Reynolds and Andrew Dawes on the impact of apartheid on children.
Creativity and flexibility
10 The special hearings on children and youth were more flexible than other hearings of the Commission, in that they allowed participants to reflect on or critically analyse the root causes of apartheid and its effects on children. Most parties providing testimony supplied written submissions ahead of the hearing and were asked to summarise their submissions orally and answer questions posed by the panel. The hearings also allowed for the participation of children in ways other than by testifying; this included finding creative ways to access and share the children’s experience. Before the KwaZulu-Natal/Free State hearing, for example, children spent a day telling their stories and making drawings that reflected their experiences. These were shared at the hearings the following day.33 It was felt that one day for hearings such as these was insufficient. This became particularly evident at the Gauteng hearings which ran very late and at which some who were scheduled to speak were prevented from doing so. The three days devoted to the Cape Town hearings was more adequate.