Burman's new legal book promotes children's rights

09 June 2003

Making fateful decisions: Professor Sandra Burman, editor of a new book which deals with legal decisions that affect children's rights.

How legal decisions on children are being made in the new South Africa and how children's rights are faring in practice in a variety of relevant settings is the topic of a new book edited by Professor Sandra Burman, Director of UCT's Centre for Socio-Legal Research.

Published by Juta Law and expected in bookshops at the end of June, The Fate of the Child: Legal decisions on children in the new South Africa, presents 20 years of evidence from a collaborative, inter-disciplinary research project.

Drawing together academic lawyers, anthropologists, psychologists and social workers from UCT and the universities of Durban-Westville and the Western Cape, the book questions how effectively children's rights are being implemented when the systems charged with ensuring their implementation are inadequate for the task.

For Burman, it is not sufficient that the "best interests of the child" is the basis for all legal and welfare decisions on children, especially when the individuals charged with making those decisions have little training or ready access to expertise in child development or the realities of a fast-changing country of many cultures.

Burman said: "Decisions that radically affect children's futures, whether custody decisions on divorce, fostering, adoption placements or juvenile court decisions, have lifelong consequences. We saw that frequently the people making these decisions did not realise the impact they were having on these children's lives.

"Our group has been meeting once a year for four years getting the papers together for this book. We hope the research that is presented will sensitise decision makers to the existence of different family patterns and the psychological impact these decisions have on children," she added.

With chapters including Criteria used by Family Counsellors in Child Custody Cases: a Psychological Viewpoint and 'The Best Interests of the Child': Where is the Child's Voice?, the book is a must read for anyone involved in children's rights issues.

Trying to generate funding for the book and hoping to reach as wide an audience as possible, Burman and her team together with Francois Botha, Director of UCT's Discrimination and Harassment Office, have run weekend workshops for decision makers, including magistrates, family advocates and social workers, where extracts from the book have formed the basis of the training materials.

"Having run two workshops so far, we are now negotiating with Justice College, the training school for magistrates, to incorporate them into their syllabus. If the workshops are built into training budgets for next year, this will ensure that children's rights, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, will continue to be upheld," Burman affirmed.

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