Few safe havens for women, child victims of violence
VIOLENCE against women and children in South Africa is desperately high, and the victims often have very few safe havens to turn to.
A shocking 1 461 children in South Africa were murdered in a year between part of 2007 and last year. The year before that, 1 630 were killed.
Even more women were murdered by way of “femicide” – a term used to describe the killing of women by men, usually fuelled by misogyny. In 2007/2008, a total of 2 780 women were murdered, and 2 744 were slain the year before.
This was the grim picture laid before Parliament’s women, youth, children and people with disabilities portfolio committee this week when the SAPS and non-profit organisation Childline addressed the committee. Although the committee pressed for more recent figures, as well as rape statistics, police representatives were not able to present these, saying the annual statistics had not yet been released.
Commissioner Tertius Geldenhuys, head of the police’s legal services legislation branch, said there were only 60 shelters in the country for women and children who were victims of violence.
He said that beside prevention, the police also had a duty to provide victim support.
While they had a number of initiatives, such as training, in place to fully equip their facilities and staff to deal with such incidents, they faced a number of challenges.
This included gender sensitivity among policemen; a lack of awareness among communities about legislation; proper co-ordination between government departments, NGOs and community initiatives; and round-the-clock availability of these roleplayers.
Committee chairwoman Barbara Thomson raised particular concer ns about the number of shelters available to victims. “This certainly doesn’t help with the implementation of legislation,” she said.
Childline’s Joan van Niekerk said that last year the organisation fielded about one million calls on its crisis counselling line. Many of the calls were related to abuse, with physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect ranking the highest.
Van Niekerk said they also faced a number of challenges in helping abused children.
This included the decentralisation of a special child protection unit; a deterioration in service delivery; budget for the implementation of the Children’s Act; the recession; and a lack of resources for child services.
The organisation was having problems with abused children and adults being turned away at police stations when they tried to report sexual abuse.
“As one provincial police commissioner noted to me in a meeting, the target of 7-10 percent reduction in rapes annually is impossible to achieve,” said Van Niekerk in her presentation.
“The only way we can do it is turn victims away, and this is what some police stations have been doing – telling parents that their children will be traumatised by the (judicial) process and that they can do nothing if the child is ‘ too young to testify’.”
Police representatives said amendments to sexual offences legislation, which came into effect in December 2007, had allowed for the police to have greater reach in terms of such incidents.
It allowed for compulsory HIV testing of alleged sexual offenders, a national register which was not yet in operation, introduced 66 new offences, abolished gender discrimination and created specific offences to protect children and adults with mental disabilities.