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Championing the best interests of children

Written by Solly Kganyago and More Matshediso

Social Development Month

Family disputes are often hardest on children but fortunately, there is a team of dedicated to ensure their bests interests.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is committed to protecting the rights of children through its Family Advocate Office, which assists parties to reach an agreement in cases of custody, access and guardianship.

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the Office of the Family Advocate evaluates the parties’ circumstances and makes a recommendation to the court that is in the best interests of the child. Londiwe Ngwenya is safeguarding the rights of children.

Londiwe Ngwenya (36) is a family counsellor based at the Office of the Family Advocate’s Johannesburg Regional Office.

 She recalled a recent case which involved a married couple with two minor children. “The mother had filed for a divorce while in South Africa on a tourist visa before travelling abroad with the children, leaving the father behind in South Africa,” she explained.

“The father then lodged an urgent application at the High Court, alleging that the mother had abducted the children and he did not know where they were. The court made an interim order that the mother return to South Africa with the children,” she added.

After investigating, Ngwenya and her colleagues recommended that it was in fact in the best interests of the children to go back to reside with their mother as neither parent had permanent residence in South Africa. The court eventually ruled in favour of the Family Advocate’s recommendations but in the year that the case dragged on, the children suffered emotional and psychological trauma as a result of being separated from their
mother. 

You may consult the Office of the Family Advocate if:

  • There is a dispute regarding contact or care of a child
  • A person wants to draft a parental rights and responsibilities agreement;
  • A person wants to amend or terminate parental rights and responsibilities agreements registered with the Family Advocate; or
  • There is a dispute on whether the unmarried father of a child born out of wedlock has satisfied the requirements which make him eligible to acquire full parental rights and responsibilities in terms of the law.