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Street children clampdown heavy handed and traumatic, says university

A clampdown on South African parents who take their to take children with them to beg on the streets was unnecessary and traumatic, academics say.

Police and social services on Friday rounded up children and teenagers found begging in Pretoria and took babies from women begging and took them into care.

The parents were not arrested but told they won’t be able to take their children home until they can prove that their circumstances have changed and there is no risk of bringing their children to "work" again.

Social development official, Teddy Gomba, said more and more children in the major city are being used as "emotional bait" to lure drivers into giving them money.

"The area has experienced a high number of people who are using children," he said saying that the raid was carried out to protect the rights of the children.
But the city’s university said yesterday that taking children away from their parents is unjustified and traumatic.

"We are committed to protect children's rights and to act in their best interest,” said Professor Antoinette Lombard of the university's department of social work and criminology.

"We strongly oppose the manner in which the operation has been conducted in the name of 'child protection,'" she told the South African Press Association.

But department of health and social development spokesperson Mandla Sidu said that the operation was based on a report and went "according to plan". He said social workers would give the children they had taken away from their parents counselling and that the separations would only be temporary. He said the department had to work out whether the children were being rented out to beggars to make more money.

"Our responsibility as a department is to protect the rights of the vulnerable. We are acting in their (the children's) best interest," he added.

Pretoria university has demanded a full investigation into the exploitation of children by beggars and for parents who make their children beg to be prosecuted. But it has criticised the authorities for taking the children away from their parents without enough evidence that this was happening.

"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," said the university’s Professor Antoinette Lombard from its department of social work and criminology.

She said the social workers had acted unprofessionally and had let the children’s privacy, dignity and rights be "violated and exploited in the media".

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