Clau­dia Lopes

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

THIS month South Africans hon­our and cel­e­brate the coun­try’s young peo­ple. June 16, in par­tic­u­lar, is a day for deep in­tro­spec­tion when the coun­try hon­ours and cel­e­brates young peo­ple who had the courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion to rise up against the apartheid state 41 years ago.

It is in part thanks to them that the po­lit­i­cal land­scape to­day looks very dif­fer­ent to what it once was.

How­ever, while there should be cause to cel­e­brate there have been mo­ments in our more re­cent his­tory, such as the Fees Must Fall protests, when our demo­cratic gov­ern­ment re­sponded to youth protests in ways rem­i­nis­cent of those used in 1976.

There is even less to cel­e­brate in light of the ex­ces­sive lev­els of vi­o­lence and sex­ual abuse be­ing per­pe­trated against chil­dren and the youth in our coun­try ev­ery day.

As a re­sult, June must also be a month in which we in South Africa, ask some se­ri­ous ques­tions about what role gov­ern­ment plays in en­sur­ing a strong demo­cratic South Africa for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Just six months into the year, 22 chil­dren in the Western Cape alone have died as a re­sult of these ex­ces­sive lev­els of vi­o­lence.

One of the more re­cent cases which grabbed me­dia at­ten­tion is that of 5-year old Mi­nen­tle Lekatha. Mi­nen­tle dis­ap­peared while play­ing out­side her house on a Satur­day af­ter­noon ear­lier this month. Her body was found the fol­low­ing day, iron­i­cally on the last day of Child Pro­tec­tion Week. She re­port­edly had been raped and stran­gled, her body dis­carded un­der a bridge.

Po­lice crime sta­tis­tics re­veal vi­o­lent crimes com­mit­ted against chil­dren un­der the age of 18 are at epi­demic pro­por­tions and most are on the in­crease.

A to­tal of 20 254 sex­ual of­fences cases; 10 420 cases of com­mon as­sault; 8 225 cases of as­sault with in­ten­tion to com­mit griev­ous bod­ily harm; 906 cases of at­tempted mur­der; and 884 cases of mur­der were re­ported to or de­tected by the po­lice in the 2015/16 fi­nan­cial year.

Of these five crime cat­e­gories, three re­flect in­creases in com­par­i­son to the pre­vi­ous year: com­mon as­sault rose by 2.76%; at­tempted mur­der by 4.38%; and mur­der, by a stag­ger­ing 9.95%.

While these num­bers are shock­ing, they are but a drop in the ocean once un­der­re­port­ing is taken into ac­count – some­where around 1 in 9 to 1 in 13 cases of sex­ual of­fences are re­ported to the po­lice.

Re­cent re­search into the sex­ual vic­tim­i­sa­tion of chil­dren, con­ducted by the Gen­der, Health and Jus­tice Re­search Unit and the Cen­tre for Jus­tice and Crime Pre­ven­tion on be­half of the Op­ti­mus Foun­da­tion, sub­stan­ti­ates how wide­spread this prob­lem is.

From in­ter­views re­searchers con­ducted with youths aged 15-17 at high schools across the coun­try, it emerged that 35% (1 in 3) had ex­pe­ri­enced some form of sex­ual abuse; 42% re­ported hav­ing been sex­u­ally, phys­i­cally, or emo­tion­ally abused or ne­glected at some point; and 82% had ex­pe­ri­enced some form of vic­tim­i­sa­tion, whether through crime, com­mu­nity vi­o­lence or vi­o­lence within the home.

Pro­vin­cial re­search into shel­ters for abused women and their chil­dren, un­der­taken by the Hein­rich Böll Foun­da­tion South­ern Africa of­fice and the Na­tional Shel­ter Move­ment of South Africa and funded by the EU, con­firms vi­o­lence in the home is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem for youth.

This is both within the con­text of be­ing ex­posed to the vi­o­lence and/or it be­ing per­pe­trated against them.

In Mpumalanga 52% and in KwaZulu-Na­tal 75% of women ac­cess­ing shel­ters as a re­sult of in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence were younger than 35 years old (the age up to which South Africa’s Na­tional Youth Pol­icy con­sid­ers some­one a youth).

The im­pact of in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence on the lives of these women, as well as the many chil­dren who ac­com­pa­nied their moth­ers to the shel­ter, was sig­nif­i­cant.

Most re­quired med­i­cal as­sis­tance to treat in­juries sus­tained from hav­ing been shot or stabbed; hav­ing arms or jaws bro­ken; or be­ing burnt.

They also re­quired psy­cho­log­i­cal and psy­chi­atric in­ter­ven­tion to ad­dress symp­toms of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and de­pres­sion, as well as sui­ci­dal im­pulses.

Shel­ter clients also needed le­gal sup­port in the form of ap­ply­ing for pro­tec­tion or­ders, fol­low­ing up on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tions, ap­pli­ca­tions or re­newals of iden­tity doc­u­ments and child birth cer­tifi­cates.

Chil­dren had fur­ther needs as­so­ci­ated with school­ing, such as school trans­fers, trans­port, the ac­qui­si­tion of uni­forms, text­books, sta­tionery and meals.

The re­search found most of these young women were unem­ployed and had lit­tle to no in­come. Con­se­quently, shel­ters, most of which are run by non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions, had to meet most of the costs as­so­ci­ated with the

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