Florence Mahlangu will ask the High Court in Pretoria on the 4th March 2008 to order the Ministers of Social Development and Finance, to extend the child support grant (CSG) to eighteen. Children now receive the grant until they turn fourteen, and will get the grant until they are fifteen as of 1 January next year.
“ACESS has supported this case from the beginning”, said Patricia Martin, director of Acess. ACESS, the Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security is a coalition of organizations working to extend social security for children. “We believe Mrs Mahlangu and LRC are acting for all children, when they argue that the courts should roll out the grant to all children. We have been waiting for this for 10 years. We think the courts should speak on this matter. “
Ms Mahlangu initially approached the Legal Resources Centre for assistance in 2004 because she was experiencing problems in accessing the CSG for her 8 year old son. Thanks to efforts by the Legal Resources Centre and the Children’s Institute (an active member of ACESS) she eventually managed to get a CSG for her son. However, acting in the public interest on behalf of other poor caregivers and children with teenage children she is also asking the court to extend the grant to all poor children under 18.
Children are defined in the Constitution and in the Social Assistance Act as being all people under eighteen. She is asking for the extension on a number of grounds. Firstly, she argues that the Minister of Finance is not entitled in terms of the Act to only give the grant to children under 15. She argues he has to give it to all poor children in terms of the Act, and children are defined as being under 18 in the Act.
Secondly he is not entitled in terms of the Constitution to discriminate between children. Thirdly, the Constitution requires that all people, including children, should progressively gain access to social assistance. At present, there is no public commitment nor plan to roll out the CSG to children of 15 – 17 years.
In addition the Constitution requires special protection to be given to children, and that the state must ensure that their basic needs are met. Children also must be protected from child labour, and their right to education advanced.
Mrs Mahlangu is assisted in this matter with reliable statistics and she relies on various expert affidavits, amongst others of Paula Proudlock (Children’s Institute, UCT) and Debbie Budlender (Centre for Acturiarial Research, UCT) to support the constitutional argument she raises.
The Minister of Social Development and the Minister of Finance oppose Mrs Mahlangu’s application. Although heads of argument have been filed on behalf of the Minister of Finance, no heads of argument have as yet been filed on behalf of the Minister for Social Development. These will be filed by Wednesday the 27 February. By mutual agreement between the parties the matter is set to proceed in the Transvaal Provincial Division on 4 and 5 March 2008.
This case follows the Minister of Finance surprising civil society activists by not announcing the roll out of grants to all children in his budget speech on 20 Febriary. This surprised activists because only a week before, on 14 February the Minister of Social Development had announced publicly on that the CSG would definitely be extended to 18 and that this would occur in phases. The result is now that 15 – 17 year olds have been left out in the cold and there is no timetable or plan for giving effect to their rights.
ISSUED FOR AND ON BEHALF OF ACESS.
The Black Sash is a founding member of ACESS.