CAPE OF STRIFE

Cape Flats traumatised after incident of child violence sends shock waves through community

By Vincent Cruywagen 8 April 2021

(Photo: bbc.com / Wikipedia)

Many in Hillview have been left deeply disturbed by the incident, with community leaders calling for soul-searching on the levels of violence young children are exposed to daily.

A six-year-old girl from Hillview in Lavender Hill in the Cape Flats region of Cape Town is in a serious condition in hospital after a nine-year-old boy allegedly stabbed her on 21 March. 

Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk confirmed that a case of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm had been reported at the Muizenberg police station on Wednesday, 31 March.

Maverick Citizen has learnt that the girl sustained a skull fracture. She is in a serious but stable condition at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Rondebosch, Cape Town, where she is being monitored. 

The boy is with his parents pending an assessment by social workers.

Although Hillview is one of the Cape Flats hotspots plagued by high levels of gang violence, the stabbing has sent shock waves through the community due to the extreme youth of both the alleged perpetrator and victim. 

Many in the community have been left deeply disturbed by the incident, with community leaders calling for soul-searching on the levels of violence young children are exposed to on a daily basis, as well as making a call for measures to address the scourge of violence, in particular gender-based violence.

The parents of both the victim and alleged perpetrator have indicated that they do not want to speak to the media at this stage. Although many community members were reluctant to divulge information surrounding the incident due to its sensitive nature, some sources said the alleged stabbing took place in a park in Hillview. The girl then fell, which caused the knife to penetrate and crack her skull. 

The police have a different version of events. Van Wyk said the boy threw a sharp instrument at the head of the girl. 

“The circumstances are being investigated by the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigations (FSC) unit and the case is with the Director of Public Prosecutions,” he said.

However, the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008 states that children below the age of 10 are not able to be held criminally responsible for their actions.

Dr Ann Skelton, director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, said the Child Justice Act had detailed provision for actions to be taken by probation officers in these circumstances. 

“There will be an assessment of the child and the family circumstances to determine whether this child needs to be referred for other services,” Skelton said.

Dr Joan van Niekerk, a child rights and protection consultant, said the act stipulated that children of this age had to be properly assessed by a competent probation officer, and a treatment plan developed that met the child’s needs and to ensure that the child was not at risk of committing a similar crime again.

“With a crime as serious as this I would recommend a very comprehensive assessment of the child, including a contextual assessment. Many children who grow up in families in which there is violence, or communities in which there is violence, may be at a higher risk of emulating such violent behaviour.”

The family required a careful assessment. The questions that needed to be answered were: who supervised the child, was the child subjected to violent or corporal punishment, and was there violence between the parents or caregivers, or bullying from older siblings?

“Then one can pinpoint contributing factors and deal with them appropriately. If the child is in need, not being properly supervised at home or exposed to violence, one would also refer to a Children’s Court to ensure that the child is afforded appropriate care and the parents have their parenting needs addressed.”

It might also be useful to take the child out of the home for a period if violence in the home required some form of intervention, she said.

Professor Shanaaz Mathews, director of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, said a combination of factors ranging from the individual to relationships and the community contributed to the risk of children using violence.

“The absence of a safe, stable, nurturing relationship, and environments experiencing stress that are prolonged and repeated during early childhood, can negatively change the brain development of a child and result in the persistence of aggressive and antisocial and violent behaviour.

“Toxic stress can result from issues like living in impoverished neighbourhoods with high levels of violence. Living in homes with violence, conflict and substance abuse all increase the risk for children to take on violent behaviour. In this context violence becomes normalised and children learn that violence is used to resolve conflict.”

Violence prevention would require a shift in the societal norms, values and beliefs that support the use of violence, including corporal punishment in the home and men’s use of violence against their intimate partners.

Solomons stressed that adults, parents and society in general were often shocked when children were violent, but never questioned what they contributed to make the child act out so violently, whether at home, with the family, in the streets or at school.

“Interventions to increase safety and reduce the risk or experience of violence should be carefully targeted and be responsive to both the developmental needs of children and the need to shift societal norms that underpin the use of violence in the home and communities,” she said.

Maverick Citizen spoke to roleplayers who regularly deal with violence perpetrated by minors to get their views on what could have triggered the incident in Hillview.

Patric Solomons, director of children’s rights NGO Molo Songololo, said many children grew up with daily exposure to violence.

“Many children are victims of physical and psychological violence. They live with the threat of violence every day and can become violent themselves. Some act out what they see and only know to respond to anger, a disagreement or a violation [with violence].

“Violence is [the result of] various environmental factors, socialisation and learnt behaviour. So children see how adults and others act and then adapt to [that].”

Solomons stressed that adults, parents and society in general were often shocked when children were violent, but never questioned what they contributed to make the child act out so violently, whether at home, with the family, in the streets or at school.

Young children “committing serious violence, fatal assaults, stabbing and the shooting of other children” were rare. Such violence was usually associated with older teenagers and young adults.

“We need research on the extent and manifestation of violence and crime by children against children under 12 years. Children who have not had good non-violent role models, and who were not taught good non-violent values and behaviour and had no intervention to address violent behaviour, will be more likely to express themselves violently,” Solomons said.

Lorraine Moko, a pastor in Hillview, has a clear sense of the dangers children are exposed to daily. She said: “The way we handle conflicts in our homes is very important. In the area of Lavender Hill and Vrygrond where we live it is likely that children witness crimes against women every day.

“To the little boy it could have been an ordinary thing, such as ‘Okay, the little girl is like Mom at home’, for instance being beaten or even stabbed. Definitely, what is happening to our children contributes a lot to how they react to and handle conflict.

“The young perpetrator is also a victim of abuse of some sort. For me, it gives me a big task to find out more in terms of what we can do. We can’t leave it like that. We need to do something as a community,” Moko said. DM/MC

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