n Child Abuse Research in South Africa - Xhosa male initiation : an evaluation of children's human rights

Volume 12, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1562-1383



More than 230 boys have died in failed circumcisions in the Eastern Cape in the past four years. In addition, more than 150 boys had to have their penises amputated since 2006 (Sidimba 2011:14; Pretoria News 2011:2). The purpose of this article is to evaluate whether the custom infringes upon these boys' human rights as guaranteed by the South African Constitution and other human rights instruments. The question asked is why attempts to regulate initiation practices do not address the problem of safety of children adequately.

In this article children's rights are explained from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child and the South African Constitution. In order to substantiate the literature study, a survey in the form of a questionnaire was done to establish the attitudes of Xhosa women. To get in-depth information from persons who had personal contact with initiates, interviews were conducted with two selected people in helping professions.
Although there was agreement that traditional initiation is a prerequisite for becoming a man, a large percentage of the participants indicated in the questionnaire that they preferred hospitalisation for circumcision. When evaluated from a children's rights perspective, the initiation rite was found to fall short in all three dimensions that were discussed, namely the obligations of the State, parents and the guardians at initiation sites.
It was found that the mere inclusion of children's rights in the Constitution does not, in reality, guarantee the safeguarding of children's interests. It is recommended that, rather than taking a confrontational approach which may lead to estrangement between the law and traditional customs, a process of negotiation should be followed to address this problem.

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