Child protection statistics in South Africa paint a troubling picture: high proportions of the nation’s children victimised by violence. But in a country numbed by shocking crime statistics it is easy to lose sight of the children behind the numbers. It is why the stories of 11 child victims whose lives have been forever changed or ended by violence are so important.
In the build-up to the 2018 Child Protection Week, statistics released in the South African Parliament showed that at least 41% of all reported rape cases from the past three years involve children. In the same period, more than 2,600 children were murdered. Add to this the tens of thousands of babies abandoned across the country (two out of three of whom are reported to have died), and revelations from a 20-year investigation that 99% of the children studied had witnessed violence or been a victim of it, and it is not surprising that global humanitarian organisation World Vision recommend that violence against children be treated as a national disaster.
But as harrowing as these statistics are, they cannot adequately portray the everyday impact of violence on children in South Africa. The victims’ individual narratives illustrate it best. Exemplified in a campaign launched for Child Protection Week: “I am NOT a Number, #IAM…”, these 11 stories are all recent or current cases being investigated by Child Protection activists. Names have been changed to protect their identities, but these are their accounts.
I am Patricia.
I was three when I died.
The abuse started as soon as my stepfather moved in with us.
He would throw me against walls when he got angry.
He kicked me in the stomach.
Once, my mom threw me from my bedroom because I wet the bed.
I landed on something hard and my body hurt for a long time.
Even though they knew, no one in authority wanted to help.
After I died, the experts said that almost every inch of my body was bruised.
I am Patricia.
I am dead.
I am Matthew.
I am 12 years old.
My father was convicted of 107 counts of crimes related to child pornography, more than 290,000 images and videos of violent sexual acts against children.
I lived in his house for years, but no one saw me, or came to my rescue.
Even after the authorities found out about his crimes, I remained in his care.
I am the child of a man who committed crimes against children.
I am also a child.
I am Matthew.
I am Tumelo.
I am three months old.
I have never known my mother.
I’m sure she is kind, so I don’t know why she put me in a plastic bag and left me on a rubbish dump just after I was born.
I was hungry and cold and afraid, especially of the rats.
I was afraid of the dog that found me too.
I have been in hospital ever since.
Doctors managed to save my fingers and toes and most of my nose.
A kind nurse gave me my name.
I hope that someone will love me.
I am Tumelo, I was abandoned.
I am Jessica.
I am four years old.
I live with my mother and her boyfriend.
He has been forcing me to have sex with him. My sister too.
Recently, while they were using drugs, he forced me into the bath and raped me there.
My sister was there too, and my mother recorded it.
I heard them say they would sell the video to buy more drugs.
I don’t want them to do this again.
I am Jessica.
Please help me.
I am Thandiwe.
I am six years old.
I am living with my aunt and uncle.
Almost every bone in my body has been broken.
My mom and dad told the investigator that they didn’t know how I got so hurt.
They came up with stories that made no sense.
They abused me and wounded every part of my body.
They have not been prosecuted.
I am Thandiwe, I was not loved.
I am Sifiso.
I am 11 years old.
I have always loved playing soccer.
I wanted to play professional soccer for Amakhosi.
My parents saved money and sacrificed many things to send me to Jozi to pursue my dream.
My coach said that if I wanted to play, I had to have sex with him.
He was cruel to me and beat me.
I am Sifiso, my dream is over.
I don’t watch soccer any more.
I am Lebohang.
Soon after I was born my mother got cancer.
My father wasn’t around much.
One day I couldn’t stop crying, and my mother shook me very hard.
I started bleeding on my brain and behind my eyes.
I spent a lot of time in hospital.
I now have Cerebral Palsy and I struggle with things that other children find easy.
I am Lebohang, I am a shaken baby.
I am Ryan.
When I was six years old my father killed my mother.
I sat in the corner of the room, closed my eyes, and covered my ears.
I tried not to hear anything, but the punching was quite loud.
The pathologist said that my mom’s insides were so badly wounded that it looked like she had been hit by a bus.
My father was never prosecuted.
I am Ryan, my mother is dead, I can never forget how it happened.
I have no name, I died without one.
I was born on the floor of the toilet, tiny but perfect.
My mother was frightened when she heard me cry.
She thought the pills she had taken would make me die, but I had fought for life.
She picked me up for a moment, one small touch of warm hands.
Then she placed me in the pit latrine.
I drowned in the water and the filth.
Now I lie in an unmarked grave with 15 other bodies.
I wonder what I would have looked like today.
I am Baby 12599, I died on the day I was born.
I am Refilwe, I am severely disabled.
A man at my day care raped me every day while my mother was at work.
My mother found out and took me to the hospital. The doctor said I had been raped a lot but did not offer us any counselling.
My mother pressed charges.
The police dropped the charges because I cannot walk or talk.
They said I can’t testify because I cannot tell anyone what happened.
The daycare says that the police did not ask any of the employees to give DNA.
I have no voice to voice my pain, and no one will help my mother.
I am Refilwe, I was raped repeatedly and authorities do not care.
I am Jordan.
I was three years old when I died.
My stepfather beat me up, and my mother did nothing.
He hit me on the head and I started to bleed.
He wouldn’t stop.
He put me in boiling water and burnt my whole body.
The water cooked my nail beds and my feet.
Then someone redressed me in my pyjamas and put me back to bed.
The pain was unbearable, and I died the next day.
I am Jordan.
I am dead.
Eleven children whose lives were forever altered or ended by violent acts of commission or omission. They are not numbers, they are unique and precious lives. As Child Protection Week begins, their stories are a timely reminder that if it takes a village to raise a child, it only takes one person to change or end a life. We tell their stories so we will never forget. DM
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"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon