For the sake of our chil­dren

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Preven­tion is bet­ter than cure when

deal­ing with the high rate of vi­o­lence against kids

Shanaaz Mathews and Lucy Jamieson are ed­i­tors of the South African Child Gauge 2014, which was re­leased this week by the Chil­dren’s In­sti­tute, Univer­sity of Cape Town. Guy Lamb is the di­rec­tor of UCT’s Safety and Vi­o­lence Ini­tia­tive and Paula Barnard the na­tional di­rec­tor of World Vi­sion South

Africa. The pub­li­ca­tion is avail­able at www.ci.org.za.

NEXT week marks the start of the an­nual 16 Days of Ac­tivism for No Vi­o­lence Against Women and Chil­dren – a global cam­paign in which South Africa has taken part over the past two decades.

While the topic will be given much air­time by the gov­ern­ment, the me­dia and civil so­ci­ety, a key ques­tion is: Does it ac­tu­ally help pre­vent vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren?

The po­lice’s lat­est an­nual crime statis­tics show that con­tact crimes against women and chil­dren are on a down­ward trend – but re­main ex­traor­di­nar­ily high. There were 45 230 vi­o­lent crimes against chil­dren re­ported in 2013/14. Half of th­ese were sex­ual of­fences.

How­ever, only one in nine sex­ual of­fences gets re­ported to the po­lice. Re­search from the East­ern Cape showed that 38 per­cent of girls and 17 per­cent of boys were sex­u­ally abused be­fore the age of 18, while a two-prov­ince study found that more than half of chil­dren ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal abuse at the hands of a par­ent, care­giver or teacher.

Not only is vi­o­lence com­mon­place, but South Africa’s chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence more ex­treme forms of vi­o­lence than chil­dren in other parts of the world. Glob­ally, rape­homi­cide of chil­dren is rare.

In South Africa, more than 100 chil­dren are raped and mur­dered ev­ery year.

Look­ing beyond th­ese statis­tics, it is clear that chil­dren are likely to ex­pe­ri­ence re­peated acts of vi­o­lence across mul­ti­ple set­tings, in­clud­ing in their homes, schools and com­mu­ni­ties. Sadly, home is of­ten the most dan­ger­ous space for chil­dren.

Ex­pe­ri­ences of vi­o­lence in child­hood cause long-last­ing psy­cho-so­cial and neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age, and the cost in lost po­ten­tial and eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity ex­tends across the course of their life.

Vi­o­lence has far-reach­ing in­ter­gen­er­a­tional con­se­quences. Par­ents who ex­pe­ri­enced vi­o­lence in child­hood of­ten lack the abil­ity to bond with their chil­dren and are more in­clined to use vi­o­lence.

Chil­dren who ex­pe­ri­ence or wit­ness vi­o­lence are also at an in­creased risk of re­vic­tim­i­sa­tion or per­pe­tra­tion later in life.

Our ap­proach is not ef­fec­tive. Most ser­vices are fo­cused on re­spond­ing to vi­o­lence rather than pre­vent­ing chil­dren get­ting hurt in the first place.

The sys­tem is in­ad­e­quately re­sourced, and a lack of an ef­fec­tive surveil­lance and mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem in­hibits the plan­ning and tar­get­ing of preven­tion pro­grammes. Also, pro­grammes that have proved to be ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing vi­o­lence, such as Step­ping Stones, have not been rolled out and im­ple­mented na­tion­ally.

We have nu­mer­ous poli­cies and plans, but they don’t ar­tic­u­late with one another, re­sult­ing in in­ac­tion.

To shift what is hap­pen­ing in com­mu­ni­ties, we need to move from pol­icy to prac­tice.

Preven­tion pro­grammes should lo­cate the in­di­vid­ual child within a broader so­ciale­co­log­i­cal sys­tem, and recog­nise that vi­o­lence is the out­come of a com­plex in­ter­play of fac­tors – from the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the child and their re­la­tion­ships with friends and fam­ily, through to the in­flu­ences of the com­mu­nity and wider so­ci­ety.

This re­quires a multi-di­men­sional ap­proach that not only re­duces the risks (such as al­co­hol abuse and poverty), but also in­creases pro­tec­tive fac­tors by, for ex­am­ple, strength­en­ing parenting skills and sup­port­ing net­works in the com­mu­nity.

While there is clear ev­i­dence that in­vest­ing in the early years is ef­fec­tive, it is im­por­tant to tar­get in­ter­ven­tions at crit­i­cal points dur­ing the course of the child’s life – from early child­hood through to ado­les­cence.

This re­quires the en­gage­ment of a wide range of role-play­ers, in­clud­ing par­ents, chil­dren, com­mu­ni­ties, so­cial ser­vice and health pro­fes­sion­als, teach­ers, po­lice of­fi­cials, and re­li­gious, tra­di­tional and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, all work­ing to­gether to pro­mote safe and sup­port­ive home, school and com­mu­nity en­vi­ron­ments.

Strate­gies to ad­dress vi­o­lence also need to con­sider struc­tural fac­tors such as un­em­ploy­ment and gen­der in­equal­ity, and in­clude ef­forts to im­prove the qual­ity of school­ing, which is key to in­creas­ing the chances of em­ploy­ment.

We also have to invest in find­ing out more about what works to pre­vent vi­o­lence against chil­dren in the South African con­text, and once pro­grammes have been rig­or­ously eval­u­ated, they need to be rolled out and scaled up when ap­pro­pri­ate.

A multi-di­men­sional ap­proach re­quires strong lead­er­ship from the Depart­ment of So­cial De­vel­op­ment, with a clear plan that cov­ers the work of a range of de­part­ments in­clud­ing Health, Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion, Jus­tice and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, and the po­lice ser­vice.

This plan must be ac­com­pa­nied by suf­fi­cient re­sources. South Africa needs to in­crease in­vest­ment in preven­tion ser­vices (but not at the ex­pense of child pro­tec­tion ser­vices). This in­cludes in­vest­ment from business be­cause preven­tion pro­grammes have mainly been sup­ported by donor fund­ing. South African part­ners need to come to­gether to stem the tide of vi­o­lence against chil­dren.

In­vest­ing in preven­tion is es­sen­tial to re­duce the long-term costs of vi­o­lence, to in­di­vid­u­als and to so­ci­ety.

This will not hap­pen overnight, and it will take time, but we need to start now.

PIC­TURE: NTSWE MOKOENA

A BRIGHTER FU­TURE: On Tues­day, 16 Days of Ac­tivism for No Vi­o­lence Against Women and Chil­dren be­gins, but is it mak­ing a dif­fer­ence? the writ­ers asks, adding that there is more that can be done, in­clud­ing co-or­di­nat­ing all ef­forts.

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