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18 January 2021
UWC children’s rights expert, Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, recognised as an international leader in her research field

The University of the Western Cape proudly congratulates Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, who holds a Chair in Public Law at the University, on receiving an A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF). Not only is she the first A-rated researcher at UWC’s Law Faculty - she is also the University’s first A-rated woman researcher.

"What makes her achievement even more significant, is that the rating is in the discipline of law, thus broadening our internationally recognised expertise at the University outside of the science field in which we currently have 6 A-rated researchers", said Professor José Frantz, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation. “It shows that we can capacitate across disciplines and that UWC has the ability to make research count in all spheres, not only in one discipline.” Prof Sloth-Nielsen is UWC’s second non-science A-rated researcher.

Prof Frantz said UWC’s recent Times Higher Education ranking suggests that the University is gaining recognition internationally for its research capabilities across disciplines. Prof Sloth-Nielsen’s A-rating by the NRF, which benchmarks South Africa’s researchers against the best in the world, is an “honour and an achievement for us as an institution, the Law Faculty and Prof Sloth-Nielsen herself, who has demonstrated commitment to and resilience in pursuing research excellence”, Prof Frantz added. 

The A-rating is granted to leading international researchers who are recognised as leaders in their field for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.

Prof Sloth-Nielsen arrived at UWC in 1994, and her first role was to manage the Children’s Rights Project at the Community Law Centre, which she did until the year 2000 when she formally joined the Faculty of Law. “It was not easy in the beginning,” she admitted. “I have had to push hard to get recognition.” 

Professor Benyam Mezmur, who completed his Masters and PhD with Prof Sloth-Nielsen and has worked with her for 15 years, said this recognition from the NRF for the “depth, breadth and quality of her work” is well-deserved and perhaps even overdue. 

He described his former supervisor, and now his colleague at UWC’s Law Faculty where he is also a professor, as “a bit like an octopus with lots of highly effective tentacles”, involved in an array of projects locally and globally, and delivering work of impeccable quality and impact.

Prof Sloth-Nielsen offers the “whole package” as a mentor, said Mezmur. “She is one of the few who understands and consciously strives to ensure that a PhD candidate’s  experience is not just about the production of an original work of a 100 thousand words thesis, but one that is well rounded.” Mezmur also described her keen interest in her students; extending beyond their research needs to their wellbeing, as well as that of their families, as a rare quality in academia where it can often be very easy to neglect the “human element”.

Through her research, and work in numerous countries around the world, Prof Sloth-Nielsen has been able to produce a critical mass of work on children’s rights, added Prof Mezmur. The fact that she has been a part-time chair of Children's Rights in the Developing World at Leiden University in the Netherlands since 2013 speaks to her international reputation in this field. The main child rights monitoring body of the African Union, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, where she served as a vice-Chairperson, continues to tap into her deep expertise years after she finished her mandate on the body.  She has also worked on law reform in various African countries, and written training manuals and continental reports.

Prof Sloth-Nielsen has supervised over 70 postgraduate students and still lectures around the world. She has published extensively on a range of subjects, including child justice, surrogacy and corporal punishment. She was a member of the South African Law Reform Commission that drafted the Child Justice Act (1996-2000) and the Children’s Act (1998-2002). She is currently working on a children's rights clause in the new constitution of Sri Lanka, and a book on children's constitutional rights. 

The passionate protector of children’s rights attributes her significant success in the challenging world of academia to her no-nonsense approach. “Work hard. Don’t make excuses. Make your own hay. No one is going to do it for you.”

For a clip from Prof Sloth-Nielsen about her A-rating, listen here

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Short biography

Julia Sloth-Nielsen is Professor of Law at the University of the Western Cape and the chair of Children’s Rights in the Developing World at the Child Law Department at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

She was a drafter of the South African Children’s Act, and has contributed to child law reform in many southern and eastern African countries (among them, Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, and South Sudan). She has published widely on child and family law issues, including in the areas of customary family law, juvenile justice, child-headed households, and access to justice.

Prof Sloth-Nielsen served as a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child between 2011 and 2016. 

Currently she serves as a member of an international expert group on surrogacy, co-convenes an annual summer school in Leiden on the frontiers of children’s rights, and co-convenes an annual conference on child and family law in Cape Town.

A staff member at UWC since 1994, Prof Sloth-Nielsen has extensive postgraduate supervision experience, with more than 70 students having graduated under her supervision, and has also lectured internationally in Belgium, Switzerland, China, and the United Kingdom.

Detailed CV