Make SA safe for chil­dren

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

In a class­room in one of South Africa’s bet­ter schools, chil­dren are well fed and neatly dressed. Do­ing their best to be the pic­ture of a na­tion’s po­ten­tial, their at­ten­tion vac­il­lates be­tween a ca­pa­ble teacher and the tub of slime mar­i­nat­ing in their too-heavy school bags. It is the kind of child­hood we want for chil­dren in South Africa, per­haps with lighter bags, less home­work and no shav­ing cream re­pur­posed into goo. But our ideas about what child­hood ought to be and what it ac­tu­ally is are con­tra­dic­tory.

For one, the very spa­ces that are meant to nur­ture chil­dren — homes, schools, play ar­eas — do not nec­es­sar­ily pro­vide pro­tec­tion. Of those chil­dren sit­ting in that class­room, one in three is likely to be a vic­tim of sex­ual abuse be­fore they turn 18.

A 2016 study pub­lished by the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT), the first na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive study on child sex­ual abuse, es­ti­mated that at least 784 967 peo­ple aged 15 to 17 were sex­u­ally abused as chil­dren. In Par­lia­ment, the po­lice min­is­ter re­ported that 41% of all re­ported rape cases in the past three years have in­volved chil­dren. In the same pe­riod, more than 2 600 chil­dren were mur­dered, which con­sti­tutes 5% of all mur­ders in­ves­ti­gated by po­lice.

But it is where these abuses hap­pen that is most jar­ring to our no­tion of safe spa­ces for chil­dren.

Of the young peo­ple in­ter­viewed by UCT, 35.4% of those in­ter­viewed in schools said they had been sex­u­ally abused at some point in their lives. In com­par­i­son, 26.3% of those in­ter­viewed in their homes said they had never ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual abuse. The de­duc­tion from this dis­crep­ancy is that young peo­ple who were in­ter­viewed in school may have felt freer to dis­close sex­ual abuse than those in­ter­viewed in their homes, so the real rate of sex­ual abuse may ac­tu­ally be much higher. And this is be­cause more than 80% of chil­dren who are sex­u­ally as­saulted in South Africa are vic­tims of those close to them.

This week, we were haunted by the news of a seven-year-old found bleed­ing in a restau­rant bath­room in Pre­to­ria af­ter a preda­tor lured her from the play area into the re­stroom and raped her. This case is dif­fer­ent to many of the cases of sex­ual abuse against chil­dren in that the preda­tor was a stranger to the child and her fam­ily and stalked this child in a pub­lic place.

But what is it about our so­ci­ety that gives a man the con­fi­dence to sit in a pub­lic place and plan a at­tack on a child in this way?

The cur­rent pub­lic scru­tiny on the lev­els of vi­o­lence against chil­dren is wel­come but we can­not mis­take it for ac­tion. In the past three years, only 21% of child rape cases and only one in three child mur­der cases have re­sulted in suc­cess­ful con­vic­tions.

Ear­lier this year, Jus­tice Min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha said the 20-year limit on pros­e­cu­tions for sex­ual of­fences, femi­cide and all forms of gen­der-based vi­o­lence should be scrapped. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant in light of the high lev­els of abuse of chil­dren. The min­is­ter told Par­lia­ment that the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dure Act of 1977 also needs to be re­viewed to in­tro­duce harsher sen­tences. That process must be fast-tracked.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.