Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma has expressed concern at the escalating number of children who are involved in criminal activities in the country.
During the 2008/2009 financial year the Department of Social Development revealed that 43 939 youth under the age of 18 were in trouble with the law.
"The number of children who are in conflict with the law are cause for concern," President Zuma told police station commissioners, on Tuesday.
He highlighted that on a monthly average there were 600 children who were waiting trial in correctional facilities. He said they could not be diverted to alternative centres due to the seriousness of the crimes they were suspected to have committed.
"We urge station commanders to ensure speedy processing of cases involving children under age of 18, assisted by relevant departments including Justice, Social Development and Correctional Services. We must do everything in our power to protect children from a life of crime."
He added that government's goal was to have efficient early intervention services to prevent children from becoming involved in crime.
President Zuma emphasized that the new Child Justice Act provides that the Department of Social Development should provide assessments for all arrested children by probation officers within 48 hours.
The President has further highlighted that government will ensure that programmes aimed at fighting crime against women are implemented efficiently.
"We said in the State of the Nation Address that we would deal with crimes perpetrated against women and children.
"We are going to ensure that current measures are vigorously implemented," he said, adding that social crime prevention measures targeted at children and youth must be clearly strengthened.
President Zuma is meeting more than 1 000 police station commissioners from across the country to discuss and share plans that can been used to combat crime.
He is accompanied by Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, Police National Commissioner Bheki Cele, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, Minister of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, as well as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe.
Minister of Social Development, Edna Molewa and all nine provincial premiers as well as MECs responsible for Safety and Security in provinces are also attending the meeting.
The meeting aims to provide police bosses a platform to table challenges they face in their respective stations to the high level of government.
President Zuma said they have decided to meet the station commanders because of their important location in the chain of command within the police service.
He added that it was vital to give station commanders the political support they required, for them to be able to execute their duties effectively.