New act devalues roles of nuclear and extended family that values of ubuntu embrace, writes Pandelani Nefolovhodwe

South Africa is widely regarded as a country that has one of the world's best constitutions.

This makes one wonder whether we are not getting carried away by the illusion that since we are the best, anything we do is correct.

Azapo is of the view that parliament is beginning to miss the boat that is supposed to transport South Africa to the shore of African values.

We say this because certain sections of the new Children's Act contain provisions that allow 12-year-olds to have abortions without parental approval.

This includes the right to contraceptives and HIV-testing without parental consent.

From a psychological point of view, during development children pass through a stage called adolescence. This stage varies from child to child, but it is generally agreed that it starts between the ages of 11 and 13.

In other words, at 12 a child is at the beginning of this stage of development. This stage ends between ages 17 and 21.

This stage ends when the child is reasonably certain of his or her identity, is emotionally independent of his or her parents, has developed value systems and is capable of establishing an adult love relationship as well as adult friendship.

At age 12 a child has not yet developed the capacity to understand the world correctly.

The qualities described above are acquired during the stage of adolescence, but certainly not at the beginning of the phase.

This means that a 12-year-old cannot be said to have acquired these developmental qualities. Allowing such a child the right to abort without parental guidance is irresponsible.

In societies where parents have established traditions and pass them on to their children, this section in the Children's Act cannot be entertained. In this kind of society everybody practices these good traditions and children remain children until they are adults.

Because sexual attitudes and behaviour are largely learnt, children in a society that practices appropriate cultural norms and values learn these principles and therefore there is no need to resort to legislation to champion children's protection and rights.

When a society resorts to legislation to protect children from parents, there is something wrong with that society. We cannot always resort to legislation in order to create a society that takes care of children.

Adults in society must shoulder this responsibility. When we allow children of 12 to have abortions without the consent of their parents, we are saying there is no need for parental guidance.

Secondly, we are also saying parents should not try to correct and guide children. After all, when a child falls pregnant, there will be no consequences. The child can just have an abortion performed on demand.

The ability to differentiate between right and wrong is one of the child's most important developmental tasks. Even after having an abortion, the child still needs parental guidance.

South Africa should decide what it wants its children to be and begin to teach them the appropriate norms and values from birth.

In order to deal with the problem we should actually look at what this society is dishing out to children as they grow.

Looking at our society, it is easy to see that our society dishes out pornography and violence to children without regard for their development. This is the root cause of children's bad behaviour. It is therefore important to start there.

We do not deny that society has advanced and that our children are now exposed to many things that we adults, as children, were not exposed to.

Azapo does not agree that simply because the exposure is what it is, society should not regulate it. We should in fact legislate to stop our children from being corrupted by all kinds of pornographic material and violence.

This section of the Children's Act as it exists encourages the disintegration of the family unit as we understand it. According to African values and norms, a child is a child of all parents, biological and non-biological.

A child is a child of the teacher at school and the health professional, who in this case is supposed to assist the child with condoms and abortion. Our children are part of an extended family.

This means that if a child prefers to go to a clinic because she either fears her parents or does not have parents, Azapo believes that it is still the responsibility of the health professional to inform the extended family about the child's condition before an abortion is performed.

This consultation with members of the extended family is vital so that the decision is not made by the child alone. It also means that after treatment, the child can continue to receive the support of the family.

Let us build a society that relies on its morals and good traditions.

Parents are important in society and impart cultural values and norms as well as guide children to being better human beings.

Laws by themselves cannot bring up children and cannot create a better society.

l Pandelani Nefolovhodwe is Azapo deputy president and an MP