For the sake of our children
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.
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.