‘Tis the sea­son of child abuse and ne­glect

Par­ents urged to act in a re­spon­si­ble man­ner

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - WARDA MEYER

WHILE the fes­tive sea­son brings joy to many peo­ple, child rights groups ex­pect adult drink­ing and par­ty­ing will leave chil­dren at risk of abuse and ne­glect.

The groups say this time of the year usu­ally sees a spike in cases of abuse and re­ports of missing chil­dren.

Rape statis­tics for the first week of the 16 Days of Ac­tivism for No Vi­o­lence Against Women and Chil­dren Cam­paign in the Wester n Cape showed that six of the 93 rapes re­ported in the week in­volved chil­dren un­der 18, ac­cord­ing to Com­mu­nity Safety MEC Al­bert Fritz.

Fritz said the statis­tics in­di­cated an in­creas­ing rate of re­port­ing the crimes.

“We tell our chil­dren, if some­body touches you, re­port it, even it’s an aunt, un­cle, grand­par­ents or a par­ent. Re­port it im­me­di­ately, do not wait for 20 years be­fore you come for­ward,” he said.

Child­line’s Joan van Niek­erk said: “We find that re­ports of child abuse and pro­tec­tion is­sues in­crease at this time – mainly due to lack of su­per­vi­sion and also due to adults drink­ing and par­ty­ing. There is gen­er­ally more out-of-con­trol be­hav­iour.”

Van Niek­erk said they also saw more in­ci­dents of chil­dren get­ting into trou­ble with drugs and al­co­hol them­selves dur­ing this pe­riod. Lack of su­per­vi­sion and adult care­less­ness – such as drop­ping chil­dren off at malls un­su­per­vised – fed into this.

She stressed that the care of chil­dren should be seen as a shared, ex­tended-fam­ily and com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“We should all be alert to the care and pro­tec­tion of each child we see in our com­mu­nity and broader fam­ily.”

The founder of Concerned Par­ents for Missing Chil­dren, Michelle Ohls­son of Mitchells Plain, said al­though chil­dren went missing through­out the year, it was worse in the hol­i­days.

Her son Matthew was nine when he dis­ap­peared in 1997.

Ohls­son, who works with the fam­i­lies of missing and abused chil­dren, said par­ents needed to be more vig­i­lant and make sure that they knew at all times where their chil­dren were.

“This time of the year ev­ery­one is in a jolly mood. Preda­tors know this. There are syn­di­cates work­ing out there, and it is a known fact that hu­man traf­fick­ing hap­pens. It is very easy for a child to get lost or go missing and at this time of the year the num­bers es­ca­late.”

Ohls­son said 13 years af­ter Matthew’s dis­ap­pear­ance she still had no idea what had hap­pened to him.

“He would be 22 years old now, and I keep telling my­self that if he’s alive, how is it pos­si­ble that he can’t reach us? And if he’s dead, how is it pos­si­ble that we can’t find his body?

“This is worse than death. I know the pain of los­ing a child. It’s a kind of pain that will never fade. It stays with you for­ever. If only I knew then what I know to­day.”

Ohls­son said their or­gan­i­sa­tion had a group of vol­un­teers who would go out and search, should chil­dren go missing over the fes­tive sea­son.

Re­gard­ing child abuse, she added: “Nowa­days abuse is not out­side our homes – it is found in­side.”

Western Cape So­cial devel­op­ment MEC Pa­tri­cia de Lille also expressed con­cern about the well-be­ing of chil­dren over the fes­tive sea­son.

There was doc­u­mented ev­i­dence of the link be­tween child abuse and al­co­hol abuse.

“Peo­ple lose con­trol, but that’s all it takes to cause per­ma­nent in­jury to a child. What should be a happy time for our chil­dren turns into a night­mare for many.”

De Lille urged neigh­bours and com­mu­ni­ties to help break the si­lence and to re­port these crimes to the po­lice so that early in­ter­ven­tions could take place.

She warned par­ents the new Chil­dren’s Act makes them li­able for any­thing that hap­pens to their chil­dren.

Aileen Lan­g­ley, from Joburg Child Wel­fare, said most of the cases that are re­ferred to them dur­ing this pe­riod are lost and aban­doned chil­dren.

“This is most of­ten due to parental ne­glect and ex­ces­sive al­co­hol abuse, which goes hand in hand with the fes­tive sea­son. Se­vere poverty and HIV and Aids also play a role in cases of aban­don­ment.”

She said it was not al­ways pos­si­ble for par­ents to take care of their chil­dren them­selves at this time of year.

“Par­ents work and schools no longer take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Most schools have sent chil­dren home af­ter ex­ams by the end of Novem­ber, al­though the school term of­fi­cially ended only yes­ter­day. If par­ents can­not take leave to spend time with their chil­dren, they need to find work­able al­ter­na­tives.”

Lan­g­ley said par­ents should teach their chil­dren about val­ues and bound­aries, and chil­dren should know that they can tell their par­ents any­thing, no mat­ter how bad it seems to be. “If par­ents fail to meet these needs of their chil­dren, their chil­dren can be­come vul­ner­a­ble to preda­tors who do not have chil­dren’s in­ter­ests at heart.”

Com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and so­cial net­works were im­por­tant, and neigh­bours and com­mu­nity mem­bers should get in­volved.

“If you are concerned about a child, reach out to the par­ents. If you still have con­cerns don’t turn a blind eye to avoid trou­ble. Re­port sus­pected abuse or ne­glect to the au­thor­i­ties. You might save a life.”

Child­line said some chil­dren were very suc­cess­ful at con­ceal­ing abuse. Warn­ing signs in­clude:

Changes in their pat­terns of be­hav­iour.

Un­ex­plained new as­sets, which could be gifts or bribes.

Avoid­ance of spe­cific peo­ple or peo­ple of a spe­cific gen­der.

Wake­ful­ness and changes in sleep­ing pat­terns at night. Loss of ap­petite. Ob­ses­sive clean­li­ness or the other ex­treme – a com­plete lack of in­ter­est in the self. Stained un­der­cloth­ing. Dis­charge from the gen­i­tal ar­eas.

warda.meyer@inl.co.za

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