Keep­ing kids safe is ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

WE HAVE al­most reached the end of Child Protection Week, but for most chil­dren, it has not made any dif­fer­ence to their lives.

The protection of chil­dren and oth­ers who are vul­ner­a­ble should not be the fo­cus for only a week or even a month. It should be some­thing we fo­cus on ev­ery day of the year.

The protection of chil­dren is also some­thing that should not be the pre­serve of govern­ment or law-en­force­ment agen­cies.All of us, es­pe­cially par­ents, should take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The dan­gers to our chil­dren are not new. They have been around for­ever. They were there when I was young, more than 50 years ago.

When I visit town­ships on the Cape Flats and look at the hun­dreds of un­su­per­vised chil­dren play­ing and walk­ing around, I of­ten re­flect that I used to be one of them. I used to play un­su­per­vised. I would wan­der all over Hanover Park with­out my par­ents hav­ing a clue where I had spent my day.

Ev­ery year we host a con­cert in town as part of the One City, Many Cul­tures Cape Town Fes­ti­val. We bus in peo­ple from sev­eral Cape Flats com­mu­ni­ties to ex­pe­ri­ence the con­cert for free.

This year, for the first time, I no­ticed that most of the peo­ple who came on the buses were un­su­per­vised chil­dren. Clearly, their par­ents saw a bus trip to town as a way of keep­ing their chil­dren oc­cu­pied for the day. At the end of the day, when the buses re­turn home, I’m left won­der­ing whether any of the chil­dren have been left be­hind.

It is easy to blame par­ents for be­ing neg­li­gent when chil­dren suf­fer harm in the town­ships. “Surely they should be aware of where their chil­dren are,” one of­ten hears peo­ple say, peo­ple who have not walked in the shoes of a town­ship sin­gle mother who has to work to feed her fam­ily, or a cou­ple who both have to work be­cause one wage will not be enough to care for their chil­dren.

In most cases, par­ents are not able to af­ford day­care, so schools be­come a place where you de­posit your chil­dren for safe­keep­ing and you hope that af­ter school they stay off the streets and will be safe. You trust adults to look af­ter your chil­dren, even if your gut tells you that you shouldn’t.

Most par­ents want the same thing for their chil­dren and would never want any harm to come to them. But we do not live in a per­fect so­ci­ety, so some chil­dren will al­ways be in more dan­ger than oth­ers, es­pe­cially in poor ar­eas such as the Cape Flats.

Both my par­ents had to work, so my sib­lings and I were left to our own de­vices most of the time. Some­times my mother would take me (the youngest of five chil­dren) with her to work, es­pe­cially when she worked as a do­mes­tic worker, but when she worked in a more for­mal en­vi­ron­ment, like a cloth­ing fac­tory, she was not able to take me with her.

If my mother had seen or known some of the peo­ple with whom I used to hang out as a child younger than 10 years old, she would have been shocked.

My sis­ters, who are two and four years older than me, were given the re­spon­si­bil­ity of look­ing af­ter me while my par­ents were at work, but it is an un­rea­son­able re­spon­si­bil­ity to give to young girls. In town­ship homes, girls have to grow up quickly to look af­ter their younger sib­lings. The same kind of pres­sure is not nor­mally placed on boys.

I’m glad the pres­i­dent has given so much at­ten­tion to Elsies River over the past few weeks, vis­it­ing the area twice af­ter the bru­tal killing of three-year-old Court­ney Pi­eters, whose life­less body was found in a shal­low grave in nearby Ep­ping, less than two weeks af­ter she dis­ap­peared from her home. Mor­timer Saun­ders, 40, has been ar­rested and charged with rap­ing and mur­der­ing the child. He lived in a room in the fam­ily’s small home.

There are many other com­mu­ni­ties on the Cape Flats where crime is as much a prob­lem as it in Elsies River and where the res­i­dents are look­ing at the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions with in­ter­est.

The crime prob­lems be­set­ting our town­ships will not dis­ap­pear with a R10 000 dona­tion and the prom­ise of a house to a be­reaved fam­ily, no mat­ter how good the in­ten­tions. The prob­lems are mul­ti­fac­eted and com­pli­cated.

I would like to give the pres­i­dent the ben­e­fit of the doubt and say that he is gen­uinely con­cerned about what hap­pened in Elsies River and prob­a­bly also in other parts of the Cape Flats. He needs to en­gage with com­mu­nity lead­ers and other in­ter­ested par­ties from the Cape Flats and talk to them about what can be done to erad­i­cate or at the least, re­duce the vi­o­lence paralysing many of these com­mu­ni­ties.

Crime on the Cape Flats will be erad­i­cated only if ev­ery­one works to­gether – the po­lice, com­mu­ni­ties, civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, churches, busi­ness peo­ple and oth­ers. We owe it to our chil­dren, and the gen­er­a­tions to come, to make sure our town­ships are no longer places of fear.

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