A message circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp in the past week warns parents that the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the country’s Department of Social Development (DSD) “will be removing children found loitering” without masks and taking them “to places of safety”.
“Just got news from a reliable source in Head Office, that SAPS and DSD will be removing children found loitering around, shopping centres and play grounds, without masks and removing them to places of safety,” it reads.
“The parents will be contacted and charged in terms of the Disaster Management Act as well as for Child Neglect, under the Child Protection Act.” This term is often used for the Children’s Act.
But will the police and social development department really take children found without masks in public places to a place of safety? And will their parents really be charged?
Police issue ‘fake news’ warning
Spokespeople from both the SAPS and DSD told Africa Check that the message was false. National police spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said the SAPS had “never issued such a directive”.
On Twitter, the SAPS called on “all who have published or received message, to ignore it and to refrain from sharing FAKE NEWS”.
#sapsHQ ⚠️FAKE NEWS#SAPS made aware of a message circulating on social media claiming that children that are not wearing masks will be removed to a place of safety. SAPS calls on all who have published or received message, to ignore it and to refrain from sharing FAKE NEWS. NP pic.twitter.com/KZGlcJLPeR— SA Police Service 🇿🇦 (@SAPoliceService) July 2, 2021
The DSD told us that any official communication from the department would be in a media statement with its branding, posted on its official social media accounts.
What does the Disaster Management Act say?
South Africa’s Disaster Management Act is intended to provide a framework for preventing and responding to disasters. In early 2020, the Act was amended to include regulations on the Covid-19 pandemic.
These include restrictions on movement, restrictions on the supply of goods and services, and closure of certain places to the public. Anyone contravening these regulations may be charged with a criminal offence.
At time of writing, the regulations were most recently adjusted on 27 June 2021.
The regulations have this to say about face masks: “The wearing of a face mask is mandatory for every person when in a public place, excluding a child under the age of six years.”
We also found no evidence that parents could be charged with neglect if their child did not wear a mask in public. And “loitering” is not mentioned in South Africa’s Children’s Act, which defines “neglect” as “a failure in the exercise of parental responsibilities to provide for the child’s basic physical, intellectual, emotional or social needs”.
The Disaster Management Act does not say that a parent will be charged with neglect if their child is found “loitering” without a mask in public.
Any person required to wear a mask in public would be committing an offence if that person “fails to comply with a verbal instruction from an enforcement officer to wear a mask”. But the regulations do not require that anyone (including a child) who is not wearing a mask be moved “to a place of safety”.
The message is false.
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