The arrest of a 14-year–old Mbilwi Secondary School learner near Thohoyandou in Limpopo for alleged assault has put the spotlight on minors who are in conflict with the law. The teenager is seen in a viral video repeatedly slapping Lufuno Mavhunga outside the school premises.
The minor is due back at the Thohoyandou Family Law Court this coming Tuesday.
The minor had her first preliminary inquiry before the court last week. Zita Hansungule from the Centre for Child Law says all minors who face criminal charges, go through the inquiry before a decision on whether to go ahead with the prosecution is made, to protect the minors.
“When a child gets arrested and makes their first appearance in a Magistrate’s Court, we call that a preliminary inquiry where now the court is not even hearing anything on the case, but just deciding what happens to the child while a decision is made about whether to go forward with the criminal matter or not. So, they have to decide whether the child is going to be placed in the care of the parents or whether the child is going to be placed in the child and youth care centre. They can decide that this is a case that does not need to go forward for a criminal prosecution, but for some sort of programme that the Department of Social Development runs for rehabilitation.”
Eighty-eight minors, including five girls, have been referred to secure facilities in Limpopo. The province has two facilities, one in Polokwane and the other at Mavambe village outside Malamulele.
Social Development spokesperson Witness Tiva says in total, 23 of the minors that are at the two centres have been sentenced. The cases of 27 of the minors have been referred for diversion, while 36 others await their trials.
“We’ve got two secure centres that are formerly known as juvenile centres. This is where we are accommodating about 80 children who are in conflict with the law. The kind of services that are offered in both facilities are therapeutic psycho-social services, educational and vocational as well as recreational services. This is done in a way of preparing these children to go and be processed by the judiciary system.”
Bullying at school | Video shows learner assaulting another learner at Limpopo school:
Hansungule says nationwide, there is a relatively high number of minors who are in conflict with the law.
“There is a reasonable amount of children going through the child justice act process. When you look at the figures released by the Department of Justice you will see the number of children who are let’s say awaiting trial, numbers of children who have been arrested or charged or have been sentenced to child and youth care centres and a number of crime involving children are what we would call minor crimes, crimes related to theft sometimes assault, schedule 1 and 2 crime. And then you will have some cases as well of children who commit major crimes.”
She adds that more should be done to address the social ills that contribute to the minors resorting to crime.
“The question that needs to be asked is ‘why are children committing crimes?’ So, a child isn’t automatically born and says I’m going to commit a crime. We need to look at the background. What is happening in the child’s life, family life, community life that has caused them to assault another child? And these are issues that we need to look at and address them so that we don’t have children who are ending up in the criminal justice system.”
The number of minors who have been released to the custody of their parents as they undergo the criminal justice system in Limpopo is yet to be confirmed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
NPA Provincial Spokesperson Mashudu Malabi-Dhzangi could not be reached for comment.