The South African justice system needs new legislation to improve how it deals with young offenders, government advocates and UN representatives said.
Children had the right to be treated as children no matter how vile their actions, Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro a told a conference on child justice in Pretoria.
Jaap Doek, the chairperson of the UN Committee on Rights of Children, said not all children could be put into the same basket. Doek said child justice measures needed to distinguish between children's petty offences and the more serious and violent crimes.
Instead the state had to treat root causes of juvenile delinquency and standardise policies like life skills programmes and education to deal with child offenders in an efficient and appropriate way.
Helping young offenders
The objective in the end was to limit the number of children prosecuted and sentenced in court.
Raesebi Tladi, of the department of justice, told delegates that rehabilitation centres were piloting new procedures to ensure a holistic approach to helping children charged with crimes.
Delegates agreed that it was critical to involve society as a whole in protecting children's rights and combating crime.