n South African Journal of Criminal Justice - A review of the criminal prosecution and sentencing of maintenance defaulters in South Africa, with commentary on sentencing strategies

Volume 25, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1011-8527
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2118



There is a culture of non-payment of maintenance in South Africa. Three criminal offences, under which maintenance defaulters may be charged for disregarding their maintenance duties, are discussed. An assessment of recent judgments reveals that the courts are not using the available sentencing options optimally. By continuously suspending sentences and not using the more effective options such as periodical imprisonment and correctional supervision - especially for recalcitrant maintenance defaulters - the deterrent value of the criminal provisions has eroded. In light of some socio-gender attitudes against the use of the maintenance courts, and indications that some defaulters will only pay maintenance when there is a real possibility of imprisonment, it is imperative that the courts re-evaluate their sentencing strategies, in order to make them more effective and ultimately to serve the needs of the children involved. It is concluded that urgent attention should be given to the training of personnel dealing with the prosecution and sentencing of maintenance defaulters, to sensitise them to the hardships of the complainants, to reiterate their constitutional obligations, and to remind them of the effective sentencing options at their disposal.

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