By Gcobani Qambela
The Children’s Act tasks the government with ensuring that children’s constitutional rights to family care and alternative care, social services and protection from all abuse, neglect and exploitation are realised.
The government has to realise these rights by making provision for substantial and comprehensive social welfare service interventions. These interventions range from the provision of crèches and other childhood development programmes and initiatives to projects that assists vulnerable families and children gain access to social welfare programmes (such as social grants, health care, and education). Integral to these and other interventions are protection services for children who have been subjected to abuse or exploitation (amongst others).
Recent research paints very serious pitfalls into the funding of essential services and protection required to meet the goals of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. A study by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry focuses primarily on the provincial Departments of Social Development and other non-profit organisations involved in the provision of services on behalf of the government finds that there is insufficient combined funding to deliver child care and protection to all the children in need. This points to a long recognised deficit and failure of our justice and social services system to deliver services to those most in need and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation: the country’s children.
Another recent study by Laura Myers of the Centre for AIDS Development Research and Evaluation (CADRE) investigated the linkages between HIV infection and child sexual abuse. Myers found that child sexual abuse is rampant in South Africa. Twenty-thousand (40%) of the fifty thousand rapes reported every year in South Africa are perpetrated against children under the age of 18. As high as this statistic is, it is inaccurate. The rates are predicted to be much higher since 8 out of 9 instances of rape are not reported in South Africa.
A significant number of the country’s children are therefore subjected to the dual trauma of the abuse itself and the resultant health effects of the abuse itself. This should and ought not to be the situation; we live in a country with a constitution that is hailed all over the world as one of the most ‘progressive’. Where are we going wrong? What can be done to better protect our children?
A key approach, which is often ignored, lies not in big budgets but in existing community structures. Child abuse is largely a domestic issue, occurring behind closed doors. To get to the heart of this issue, tactical ways need to be devised to tap into existing government and institutional structures to penetrate into communities. Some suggested approaches include:
Firstly, the breakdown between community forums and the South African Police Service (SAPS) must be fixed. A strong community forum can serve as an important deterrent for child abuse when working together with the SAPS. In rural communities and townships, police are often reported to arrive hours after being called to report on a crime/abuse. Community Police Forums however have 24 hour access to their communities and can make great inroads in bringing perpetrators to account.
Secondly, since most children spend a large part of their day at school, schools should also play and occupy a pivotal role in bringing to account child abuse. Teachers, especially those teaching Life Skills should create open spaces for children to openly express their troubles and most importantly find ways to assist children working together with the Department of Social Development.
Lastly, awareness of children’s rights needs to be increased. Workshops can easily be conducted in communities to educate not only children (who are largely dependent on adults) but also the elders about child abuse and its various forms. This is not a costly activity and can easily be built into the programmes of the community clinics, churches and other areas of collective gathering.
We are not a lazy nation. We are resilient beings. Tolerance of injustice, especially on the young is NOT in our culture. It’s unacceptable that we have let the monster of child abuse roam silently all around us. Dr. Mamphela Ramphele notes in her book “Steering by the Stars: being young in South Africa” that it was our resilience as a country that “enabled families to survive on meagre wages and old age pensions, and still send their children to school to give them a better future”.
It’s inexcusable to have to wait for funding from big donors and government to fix an inborn human right for each child to care and have a proper childhood without abuse in any form. Justice should not be relative to a few young people in South Africa in 2011. We need to awaken the silence on child abuse and slate the monster – and it does not start with the government, but with each individual and their respective community.
Gcobani Qambela is an AngloGold Ashanti One Young World delegate. He’s completing his MSocSc (Anthropology) though Rhodes University and is a Junior Researcher at the Centre for AIDS Development Research and Evaluation (CADRE) at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER).