|The lobby group Action Society has been actively advocating for public access to the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) the past two years. They are pleased that the amendment to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act will now allow “any person who has interest” to lodge an enquiry to the register. There still seems to be some uncertainty as to the exact working of the NRSO.
In a recent interview with SABC, the Registrar Ntombizodwa Matjila, gave ambiguous answers regarding the functionality and accessibility of the NRSO. She stated that the NRSO “was never closed” but then confirms that only five categories of people could access information (employers, employees, relevant authorities, a person applying for adoption or a person whose particulars appear on the register.) She also couldn’t confirm how many clearance certificates have been issued since the system was opened for vetting purposes in 2019.
In August 2020, in response to our question on how many times any provincial educational department requested access to the NRSO for the purpose of vetting educators before employment, she answered: “Many times, but in the past three years the NRSO was not yet fully implemented for the purpose of vetting any person in the Register. The vetting process was only implemented last year because the development and update of the NRSO database was finalised last year.” She also declined to answer our question on how many names were entered into the NRSO between 2014 and 2019. During her recent interview however, she says the NRSO has been updated on a daily basis since 2009 and has 30, 237 confirmed names on the database ̶ as it it is linked to the courts with an integrated case management system ̶ once again no clarity is given on the current state of affairs and whether clearance certificates are actually being issued.
“The Registrar has not been forthcoming with answers to clarify the current state of the NRSO and we feel the public needs to have a better understanding of the current functionality and accessibility of the NRSO,” says Elanie van der Walt, spokesperson for Action Society.
There has also been concerns regarding vigilantism if the NRSO is made available to the public, recently Deputy Justice Minister, John Jeffreys, said: “South Africa’s history of vigilantism is one of the main concerns about making the sexual offences register public.” Action Society however is only advocating for the NRSO to be functional and accesible. The purpose of any type of any form of sexual offenders’ register is described as being ‘a form of public protection and not part of the punishment’ of being found guilty of the offence. It is important that a sexual offences register should succeed in its primary aim of protection.
“We are not asking for the details of perpetrators to be published on a website or billboards. In too many cases of rape and sexual abuse the perpetrators are known to the victims – a family friend, a boyfriend, a stepfather ̶ we need to enable the public to make informed decisions about people they allow around their children. Though greater access to the NRSO as currently envisaged is a significant positive development, if the NRSO is made more readily available to the public, we would have had a better idea of perpetrators and it could also help reduce child rape, abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV).” concludes van der Walt.