This past week we celebrated Child Protection Week. For the past 24 years, since South Africa attained democracy we have celebrated Child Protection Week at this time of year. However, the question remains whether our children are truly being protected, despite the fact that we have laws in place that protect their rights.
Considering the crimes against children that are reported on a daily basis this does not seem to be the case. I want to highlight a few incidents that have happened here in Gauteng.
In May this year two girls aged eight and nine went missing while playing outside on a Sunday afternoon in Thokoza, Ekurhuleni. They were reported missing at the police station the following day.
A community member found their bodies dumped in an open veld. The girls were found with bruises around their necks.
Police have launched a manhunt for the killer/s, with the Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Deliwe de Lange urging the community to work with the police to find the perpetrators.
Just last week the parents of Poppie van der Merwe who was just three years old at the time of her death in 2016, were sentenced in the North Gauteng High Court for her death. During October 2016 the toddler was rushed to a hospital in Brits and was declared dead on arrival.
It’s believed that over a period of several months Poppie was abused at the hands of those meant to care for her. Her caregivers faced four charges which included assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Justice was finally served this year, when her caregivers were found guilty of her murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Section 28 of the Constitution outlines the basic rights of children. The Bill of Rights for Children states that all children must have access to proper nutrition, shelter and proper care.
Children require love, care and a stable home environment to flourish. When this is not in place, we see cases like the brutal murder of Poppie van der Merwe and the senseless killing of two young children in Thokoza.
These are but only two examples of the many young children who were not protected by the one’s entrusted with their care.
In one of many incidents of sexual abuse, the principal of Reiger Park Secondary School in Ekurhuleni has been accused of sexually abusing young learners. But the abuse did not end there. He is also accused of allegedly hiring teachers in exchange for sexual favours.
Just last year, a school patroller at AB Xuma Primary in Soweto was accused of abusing around 87 learners. To add further insult to injury, two pupils were allegedly sexually assaulted for a second time by a police officer tasked with investigating this matter.
Our children must not be subjected to abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to take care of them.
A 2017 report, The Child Abuse Tracking Study found that children were most at risk of abuse in their own homes, while at least 80% of children under the age of four were related to their abusers.
Another study conducted by UCT and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, the Optimus Study, found that at least 35.4% of young people interviewed in schools had experienced some form of sexual abuse at some point in their lives. That’s one in every three young people interviewed.
The study also found that 26.3% of children who were interviewed at home had experienced some form of sexual abuse and 36.8% of boys and 33.9% of girls reported some form of sexual abuse.
The fibre of the society is hanging by a thread, as there is no respect for our children. What has happened to our humanity and to the culture that insisted that it takes a village to raise a child and your child is my child? We are now living in fear that our children cannot even be allowed to play outside, we cannot trust any family member, friends, teachers or even police officers to ensure the safety of our children.
We call on the nation to join hands in advocating for the rights of children and to ensure that they are protected at all times. DM
Refiloe Nt’sekhe MPL is DA Shadow MEC for Social Development