‘Tis the season of child abuse and neglect
Parents urged to act in a responsible manner
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.