Sex offenders’ register operational, but not yet useful

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s sex offenders’ register is operational – but it faces challenges that will drag out its widespread implementation.
ITWeb reports that while the department stated court orders had been captured onto the National Register for Sex Offenders from 30 June 2009, the process has been slow.
Currently, court orders made regarding sexual offences are supposed to be updated onto the computerised register, but even this process has been drawn out.
The department says the delays experienced in the implementation of the computerised system have been caused by outdated systems in government departments.
“Considering the lack of interface automation across departments – some processes are still being conducted manually. Hence, that all systems are not automated does pose a challenge,” says Jeff Radebe, minister of justice and constitutional development.

The National Register for Sex Offenders is a computerised record of the names and details of all the people who committed sexual offences against a child or a person who is mentally-disabled.

The purpose of the register is to ensure no person who has been found guilty of a sexual offence against a child will be allowed to work with children, ITWeb adds.

The register is also meant to be confidential. Employers will be required to apply to the department to establish whether potential employees were listed.

The Sexual Offences Act, which provides for the creation of the register, also imposes a duty on a convicted person to disclose a sexual offence conviction against a child. Failure to do so constitutes a further criminal offence.

The minister said the register will become operational in phases and the first phase is already under way. Phase two is supposed to deal with the updating of historical convictions.

The records of various government departments, including those of the South African Police Service’s Criminal Record Centre, the Department of Correctional Services and the Department of Health, regarding persons who are alleged to have committed sexual offences against children or mentally challenged individuals, but who were declared as state patients, would be added in the second phase.

While the department claims it has met the deadline for the operationalisation of the register – it could not say when the following phases will be implemented. Several critical processes required by the Sexual Offences Act are yet to be carried out by the registrar.

The Department of Basic Education, as an employer that works directly with children, has to apply for clearance certificates for all educators from the registrar of the National Registry. Minister Angie Motshekga says the department has not applied for clearance certificates.
“The reason for not applying for clearance certificates is that the office of the registrar for the National Register for Sex Offenders is currently capturing court orders that have been issued since June 2008. Only when the electronic capturing of court orders has been completed, will the office of the registrar start screening the orders in relation to which department the offenders are employed,” she notes.

She says the department would only receive clearance certificates, once the court orders have been captured and processed. Application forms, which would have to be completed on behalf of employees that have committed sexual offences and returned to teaching, would also only be processed once the registrar invites applications, Motshekga adds.