Child abuse in KZN the highest

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IOL ND CHILDLINEKZN1 DAILY NEWS A team of Superheroes has helped raise awareness - and almost R3 million - for Childline, and now more are needed to come forward, say Mehreen Docrat, left, the marketing and public relations manager, and Vanespiri Pillay, the executive director. Photo: Sibonelo Ngcobo

Durban - There had been an increase in the number of cases of boys committing sexual offences against boys, the director of Childline KZN said on Wednesday.

And the age of victims and offenders generally ranged from 5 years to 14, said Vanespiri Pillay

.

The reason for the increase was exposure to sexual activity and social media as well as poverty - with victim and offender staying in the same room - as well as a lack of supervision and awareness, she said. Some did not realise they were doing anything wrong.

Pillay, who was appointed as the director recently, was speaking after a press conference at which she reported that the incidence of child abuse in KwaZulu-Natal was the highest in the country.

Childline receives 350 000 calls a year from abused children, with the majority of complaints involving sexual abuse. Other complaints involve neglect, exploitation and child trafficking.

There were 250 confirmed cases of sexual abuse a month, she said.

“And how many don’t we know about? That is why it is important for our outreach team to get the message across about sexual abuse, particularly in rural and semi-rural areas.”

Some children in these areas did not know they were being sexually abused, as it was “swept under the carpet”, Pillay said, especially if the perpetrator was in the same family.

“Children need to know ways and means to report this. Whenever an outreach team goes into a rural or semi-rural area, we get an influx of children coming forward.”

Told about “good and bad” touching, some said they did not know they were being abused as what they had experienced was considered normal.

Referring to cases of neglect, Pillay said these included parents using their child’s government grant to pay for alcohol or hair weaves or to run shebeens.

The challenges were that cases generally took a long time to go to court, making it difficult for young victims to remember details, she said. If they were unable to remember the colour of the rapist’s shirt, for instance, the case would be thrown out.

Pillay said Childline KZN, which was on the brink of closing its doors just over a year ago, was now on the road to recovery. “And the story of our rescue has been nothing short of remarkable

.”

Childline, which operates a crisis line for abused children, was itself facing a crisis last year and had just four months of funding left in its coffers.

This was because of a drop in corporate and other funding over the previous three years, Pillay said.

The 49 staff had not had increases or bonuses and although Childline did not pay rent at its 11 centres around the province, monthly operational costs were R600 000.

It was only after a benevolent group was set up that there was a change in fortune for the province’s largest and most prolific charity, now in its 28th year.

An 11-member team came up with a multi-pronged strategy to throw a lifeline to Childline, which conducts almost 7 000 individual therapy sessions a year.

And what these “superheroes” had managed to do had been “nothing short of a Herculean task”, Pillay said.

The first part of the strategy was the launch of a “‘Superheroes Campaign” which was supported by local newspaper groups, including Independent Newspapers and East Coast Radio.

Seventy people hosted the first live telethon, dubbed “Herothon”, which raised R1.2m.

An SMS campaign was launched with about 7 000 people contributing R15 an SMS and this raised R140 000.

The first fully interactive Facebook fan page was set up, along with a Twitter and LinkedIn account, while further funding came from Operation Jumpstart.

A UK-based international fund-raiser was appointed, the National Lottery donated almost R1m, and many other people - “far too many to mention” - donated time and money to help the cause.

A think tank of top KZN businessmen had also been set up, and Hunt Lascaris, one of the largest advertising agencies in KZN, was putting together a team to look at a retail strategy and the targeting of corporates.

Almost R3m was raised, but the job was not yet over, Pillay said.

“We have been given a lifeline; however, we want to do better.”

* Childline’s Crisis Helpline is 080 005 5555, while the phone number is 031 312 0904 and the website is www.childlinekzn.org.za.

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