Court support workers speak out: Upholding children's rights in the criminal justice system
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The prevalence of sexual offences against children in South Africa continues to be among the highest in the world. The quality and accuracy of a child's testimony is often pivotal to whether cases are prosecuted, and whether justice is done. Child witness programmes assist child victims of sexual abuse to prepare to give consistent, coherent and accurate testimony, and also attempt to ensure that the rights of the child are upheld as enshrined in the various laws, legislative frameworks, directives and instructions that have been introduced since 1994. We draw on information from two studies that sought the perspectives of court support workers to explore whether a child rights-based approach is followed in the criminal justice system (CJS) for child victims of sexual abuse. Findings suggest varying degrees of protection, assistance and support for child victims of sexual abuse during participation in the CJS. The findings revealed that the rights of children to equality, dignity and not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way were undermined in many instances. Finally, recommendations are given on ways to mitigate the harsh effects that adversarial court systems have on children's rights.