PhD for Child Rights Champion
South African child rights activist and former Director of Childline, Dr Joan van Niekerk, graduated with a PhD in Social Work.
Her study explored transformative shifts and challenges in the provision of child protection services. Interviews with senior social workers in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal revealed that services are severely hampered by the lack of an overarching child protection strategy, a dysfunctional relationship between the non-profit sector and government, as well as inadequate resourcing. She proposes a developmental model for child protection services.
Van Niekerk is a child rights and child protection consultant and co-author of A Practical Approach to the Child Justice Act. She completed a Master’s degree in Medical Science (Medical and Psychiatric Social Work) at the former University of Durban-Westville in 1983 and has worked in the field of child protection for 28 years. She has actively promoted the prevention of child rights violations and abuse, as well as appropriate responses to abused children and their families.
She has considerable experience in working with children in conflict with the law; particularly those who have committed offences against other children. Van Niekerk spent 24 years at Childline, initially as Director of Childline KwaZulu-Natal and then as National Co-ordinator of Childline South Africa. She chaired the South African Law Reform Commission Project Committee on Sexual Offences and participated in consultations that resulted in the initial drafts of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 and the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008.
She is currently a member of the Professional Board for Social Work and the President of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
Words: Melissa Mungroo
Photographs: Abhi Indrarajen