On 07 April 2020, the Minister for Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, published various amendments to the Directives delivered by her on 30 March 2020, and pursuant to the national lockdown Regulations published on 25 March 2020. The amendments have clarified one of the more controversial issues stemming from the Directions – whether the child/children of persons who bear co-parenting responsibilities and rights are able, given the restrictions imposed on the populace by the Regulations, to move between the households of the parents of the child/children during the lockdown period.
The provisions of the Directions (Item 6((m)) dealing with this issue initially expressly prevented the movement of children between the households of co-parents in order to minimise the child’s potential exposure to Covid-19 and the child was required to remain at the place of residence of the parent where the child found him-or herself at the time that lockdown was initiated for the duration of the lockdown. The only solace the Directions could offer to parents prevented from enjoying time with their children was to allow parents to maintain their relationship with their children through the use of electronic communications, not that governmental consent for such communications was required in the first place.
The difficulties with the wording of the Directions are self-evident as they effectively deprive a parent sharing parenting responsibilities and rights with another person, from seeing their child/children during the entire period of the lockdown, and assumedly any period by which the lockdown may be extended, in the event that the child/children in question was/were with the other co-parent at the time that the lockdown came into the effect.
Luckily these issues have been settled via the publishing of the amendments which have altered the Directions as follows:
- The title of Directive 6(m) has been amended to include caregivers with those persons to whom Item 6(m) would apply. The amended title reads as follows:
“Directions to contain the spread of COVID -19 in exercising the care and contact by persons who are co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights or a caregiver during the lockdown period.” [own emphasis added].
- Further, the remainder of Item 6(m) has been amended as follows:
“(i) Movement of children between co- holders of parental responsibilities and rights or a caregiver, as defined in section 1(1) of the Children’s Act,2005 (Act No. 38 of 2005), during the lockdown period, is prohibited except where arrangements are in place for a child to move from one parent to another, in terms of:
(aa) a court order; or
(bb) where a parental responsibilities and rights agreement or parenting plan, registered with the family advocate, is in existence, provided that, in the household to which the child is to move, there is no person who is known to have come into contact with, or is reasonably suspected to have come into contact with, a person known to have contracted, or reasonably suspected to have contracted, COVID -19;
(cc) The parent or caregiver transporting the child concerned must have in his or her possession, the court order or the agreement referred to in sub-items (aa) and (bb), respectively, or a certified copy thereof.”
The amendments mentioned above came into effect immediately upon being published on 07 April 2020 and are currently in full force and effect.
Accordingly, co-parents and/or caregivers can breathe a collective sigh of relief as the movement of children between co-parents and/or caregivers is now permitted provided that the movement has been authorised either by way of a court order, parental responsibilities and rights agreement or registered parenting plan. Additional caveats have been inserted by the Minister which require that no person in the household to which the child/children is/are to be moved, has been in contact with or is reasonably suspected to have been in contact with, a person suspected of having contracted Covid-19 and further, that any parent or caregiver transporting the child from one household to another must be able to present the said court order, or agreement, or a certified copy thereof, upon being required to do so.
This is a hugely positive step for parents who find themselves sharing parenting responsibilities and rights and who have been legally prohibited from seeing their children since the commencement of the lockdown on 27 March 2020.