We are currently observing National Child Protection Week, which is an annual campaign led by the department of social development in partnership with other government departments and civil-society organisations. The campaign will run up to June 2 2013 and is themed “Working together to protect children”. The aim of this initiative “is to promote the culture of respect for children’s rights thus ensuring that all children grow up in an environment that is safe from abuse, neglect and exploitation”.
Often the focus tends to be on sharing statistics you already know, the gruesome facts about child abuse. There’s nothing wrong with this, as a society we need to know it’s happening but it’s just as important to move towards sharing solutions and seeking out ways in which child abuse can be prevented and detected early. People need to know there are practical steps to achieve this, hence my excitement about the “1 Thing” campaign. An initiative of Media Monitoring Africa in partnership with Crime Line, Centre for Child Law, The Press Council of South Africa, SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, Department of Social Development, Child Rights Centre, Children’s Institute, Childline, Teddy Bear Clinic and Linc/Synergos.
They’re asking South Africans for “1 Thing” that can be done to help reduce child abuse. What they hope to achieve is a collection of “solution-oriented ideas and make them public, and send them to various stakeholders, and where possible, look into seeing which of the ideas can be followed through and/or initiated”.
As cliché as it might sound, the “1 Thing” I’d suggest is breaking the silence. Over the last few months I’ve noticed how easily one could get away with child abuse. My son suffers from a range of allergies and skin conditions, which have subsequently resulted in him bruising very easily. The slightest bump, fall and touch can leave him with horrible bruises, which go from blue to purple and sometimes last for weeks. Being a child, enjoying his mobility he spends a lot of time running around and attempting to climb everything he possibly can. This often results in falls and bumps, meaning he is bruised more often than not. Apart from his respiratory problems, which require that he uses pumps and nasal sprays, his bruising is not really something I have discussed with anyone except the many doctors and nurses we often have to see. Despite this no-one, including his teacher at the daycare centre he used to attend, has ever questioned his bruises. This bothers me because I don’t believe anyone should consider it “normal” for a child to bruise the way he often does.
Like most parents it would greatly hurt me to be accused of abusing my child in any way. But at the same time it bothers me that my child could be abused and nobody would do anything about it — not even harmlessly question me about the bruises.
Apart from my son I have witnessed this silence also in broader society. During my involvement in the “justice” system, every time abuse was identified and the matter taken forward, there would always be people who would say things like “I always knew that there was something wrong with that child” or “yes, I remember seeing X and Y, not thinking it’s normal for a child” and yet most of these people did nothing and chose instead to wait until the worst happened to the child.
Breaking the silence on suspected abuse may be a scary prospect because we could be making harmful and hurtful false accusations. But as evidenced by Mpho Motloung, a fellow activator for who I have great respect, one can take proactive steps where child abuse is a possibility. She took a proactive stance, getting herself informed on abuse, the signs and how best to assist a child suspected of being abused, as well as the resources available in the area where the child resided. Her actions should inspire us all. Being proactive when abuse is suspected is the only way we can reduce and eradicate this.
Without a doubt child abuse is a very sensitive matter and you should be cautious about how you go about it but turning a blind eye and pretending it isn’t happening is not going to keep our children safe and makes party to the abuse.