Concerns regarding the excessive incarceration of maintenance defaulters were highlighted during the public hearings on the Maintenance Amendment Bill today. The Bill is currently before the Portfolio Committee of Justice and Correctional Services and public hearings were set down for one day.
Acting Committee Chairperson Ms Makgathatso Pilane-Majake said MPs we must care for the well-being of the child. She said many children of South Africa go hungry even when their fathers can afford to pay.
The Bill proposes to increase the penalty for failure to pay maintenance from a maximum of one year imprisonment to three years in prison. It further proposes to increase penalties for the wilful interruption of a maintenance enquiry from six months in jail to one year.
The Bill proposes an increase in penalties for a third party to pay money in terms of an emolument attachment order from a maximum of six months in prison to two years. The proposed penalty for maintenance payers who fail to give notice of a change of address, employment or residence has increased from six months in prison to one year.
Mr Wessel van den Berg from Sonke Gender Justice said detention is not an appropriate sanction for non-compliance and there are far-reaching consequences for such penalties.
Mr Van den Berg said if a defaulter is imprisoned, he goes into arrears even more as he is unable to pay. He suggested penalties such as withholding a visa or passport. He said the proposed penalties go beyond the maximum in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Committee Member Mr Bongani Bongo agreed that incarceration is harsh. “If you are taking them to prison, you are creating a social problem because you may find they are looking after six or seven other people. It may even affect some Members of Parliament.”
Another Committee Member, Mr Loyiso Mpumlwana, agreed and said that even the current six months in prison is too high, as prisons are already full.
Mr James Selfe, who also serves on the Committee, agreed that prisons might be overfull but said that penalties are a deterrent for those who can afford to pay but refuse to do so.
25 February 2015
Source : Parliament of South Africa