Children in Conflict with the Law in South Africa: Investigating Ubuntu as a viable Pathway towards Systemic Change

Authors: Loader, R.-M.

Editors: supervised by Sax, H.

Conference: Universität Wien, Faculty of Law


This thesis focuses on a specific facet of human rights, notably the rights of South African children in conflict with the law. It approaches the topic from a holistic perspective, which includes historical, legal and sociological dimensions. In this way, the study illustrates that considering the situation of child offenders in South Africa necessitates an acute awareness of the multi-dimensional nature of the issue to the extent that overarching political and social failings should be addressed in any attempt to change deficiencies in the child justice system.

Given the South African Constitution’s explicit incorporation of concepts from the African philosophy of ubuntu, particular attention is paid to what this worldview entails and how it can serve as a companion to the human rights paradigm. In this regard, the thesis provides a detailed argument proposing the value of specific principles associated with ubuntu for the promotion of interpersonal communication through a jurisprudence of care, kindness, solidarity and dignity. To this end, first-hand empirical observations and interviews conducted over a period of eight months, provide insight into the experience of the child justice system from the perspective of affected children themselves.

The specific contribution of the thesis involves the proposal of seven concrete suggestions towards systemic change. Particular focus thus falls on the need to develop umbrella strategies designed to change attitudes, expand knowledge and develop skills. It is argued that these three intertwined pillars are crucial to a system designed to protect children – and by extension also an entire society.

Source: Manual