Protecting our Women & Children against Abuse
“We must protect our families, we must protect children, who have inalienable rights and should be loved, should be taken care of physically and mentally and should not be bought into the world only to suffer.” – Indira Gandhi
Human Rights Day
Human Rights Day is celebrated on the 10th of December annually. It commemorates the day the United Nations Generally Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This Declaration set out to ensure universal protection of all fundamental human rights and has been translated into hundreds of languages and dialects from Abkhaz to Zulu which led to a world record being set in 1999 for the most translated document in the world.
Human Rights Day reaffirms the importance of human rights, the need for global solidarity as well as our shared humanity. This is preceded by 16 days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children (16 Days of Activism), which is also a United Nations campaign that occurs annually from the 25th of November to the 10th of December.
Child abuse in South Africa is occurring at an alarming rate and the 16 Days of Activism aspires to create awareness with the expectation and hope of ensuring people are empowered to aid in the prevention and act effectively. The greatest concern in identifying child abuse is that the abuse is generally disregarded as it occurs at home under the guise of discipline, for example.
“It is extremely difficult to prevent child abuse, but what we do after a child has been abused will determine that child’s future and our own as a society,” says the Men and Women Against Child Abuse web site. According to the 2016 Optimus National Prevalence Study, one in three boys and girls have experienced sexual abuse, with only one third of these young victims ask for help. The effects of this abuse and violence on our children is devastating, to say the least. There is a common misconception that abuse needs to be accompanied by violence for it to be considered abuse. Abuse can take various forms including, and not necessarily limited to, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect which entails failure to provide for the child’s basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, love and affection. Failing to provide much-needed medical care when needed is also considered a form of abuse.
Studies have shown that the effects of a child being abused includes, but is not limited to, impaired brain development, poor physical health, psychological complications, psychiatric disorders, relationship issues, substance abuse, behavioural issues, and involvement in crime related activities. The psychological effect of abuse on children has presented an increase in child homicides at a rate of 5.5 homicides per 100 000 children, which is more than double the global average. With almost half of these homicides being related to child abuse and neglect.
Research has revealed that there are various signs that can be observed amongst children which could be an indication that some form of abuse is at play, which includes, but is not limited, to the following:
- Child appears anxious and withdrawn with sudden changes in behaviour;
- The child becomes uncharacteristically aggressive;
- Absence of social skills and avoiding making friends;
- Physical indications such as bruises or welts and appears to be in pain;
- The child may often have an understanding of adult knowledge not appropriate for their age.
Protection of children afforded by legislation:
Children need protection as they are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Accordingly, Section 28 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 deals with the rights of children and reference is more specially made to Section 28(1)(a) of the Constitution that reads, “every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation”.
Further in support hereof, Section 110 of the Children’s Act and its amendment Act 41 of 2007 addresses the children’s rights in its entirety along with the Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007 which recognises that sexual violence against women and children is a daily occurrence. The purpose of this Act is to provide legal rights to all survivors of sexual violence.
What to do when a child is being abused or there is reasonable grounds to believe a child is being abused:
- Assess the situation and establish whether the abuse or neglect is life threatening;
- Communicate with the child – it is important for him/her to understand that you can be trusted and that you are there to help him/her;
- Ensure the safety of the child by approaching the SAPS and a social worker as they are trained to act in accordance for the safety and wellbeing of the child;
- Report the abuse to the relevant authority and provide as much information as possible.
In terms of Section 110 of the Children’s Amendment Act mandatory reporters may include but is not limited to certain professions e.g. correctional officers, legal practitioner, medical practitioner, teacher, nurse who has reasonable grounds to believe a child is being abused, either physically, emotionally, sexually or that a child is being neglected to report that on a Form 22 to the designated child protection organisation being the Provincial Department of Social Development or a police official.
As per the South African Police Service website, any severe abuse should be reported to the Lifeline, Childline or the Child Emergency line by any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is occurring. There has to be reasonable grounds for reporting same which would mean that a reasonable person would come to the same conclusion in similar circumstances. There is however a discretion for ordinary citizens, and it is not mandatory to report the abuse, however it should be considered a moral principle. It is important to note that Section 54(b) of the Sexual Offences and related matters Act makes it evident that failure to report any sexual abuse or exploitation is deemed an offence and is punishable with a fine or imprisonment of up to 5 years or a fine, or both.
What to do after the abuse:
The healing process for any child that has been the victim of any form of abuse is never easy. We as South Africans can agree that prevention is better than cure, but we also know it is not always possible to prevent the abuse from occurring. The child needs to receive professional medical care from appropriate care givers and a therapist will assist in combating the effects of the abuse on the child’s psychological wellbeing. They need to understand that the abuse is not their fault, that they do not need to live in fear and that they are worth it, despite if circumstances has led them to believe otherwise.
If you have suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please contact anyone of the following helplines:
- South African Police Services (SAPS) – Emergency line: 10111 / email@example.com
- LifeLine South Africa 0861 322 322 / lifelinesa.co.za
- The Child Emergency Line 0800 123 321 /
- Women and Men Against Child Abuse 011 789 8815 / wmaca.org
- Childline South Africa 08000 55 555 / 031 201 2059 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Child Welfare South Africa 074 080 8315 / email@example.com