Children of the Abyss: Permutations of Childhood in South Africa’s Child Justice Act
New Criminal Law Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2012
54 Pages Posted: 13 May 2011 Last revised: 1 May 2015
Date Written: February 8, 2012
This article critically examines recent legislation in South Africa intended to systematically overhaul the country’s juvenile justice regime. Developed and heatedly debated over the course of a decade, the Child Justice Act implements novel procedural protections and large-scale restorative justice programs. By analyzing the political history, social context, and evolving text of the Child Justice Act, I call into question prevailing assumptions about post-apartheid South Africa’s socio-legal history. Close examination of the act’s major drafts (in 2002, 2007, and 2008) reveals a set of tensions in the political and rhetorical status of youths as alternately victims of circumstance and threats to society. Rather than confronting and resolving this tension, which subverts the linear logic of post-apartheid “transition”, the act reinscribes that tension in a new vocabulary and logic of governance and social management. Contemporary South African history thus demonstrates a pattern not of transition but of problematic permutations.
Keywords: South Africa, juvenile justice, restorative justice, diversion, transition, post-apartheid, crime control, governmentality
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