Cape Town - Too many child murder cases were not identified or investigated by the police, MPs heard on Wednesday.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) was briefing Parliament's portfolio committees on health and women, children and people with disabilities on its findings regarding child homicides in 2009.
The MRC study found more than 1 000 children died as a result of homicides in 2009, translating to about three children being murdered a day.
The most common forms of these murders were abandoned babies, fatal child abuse and violence between teenage boys.
Researchers found several cases where children died as a result of abuse or neglect, but police were either not alerted or sometimes did not investigate the cases.
In one case, a three-month-old baby was declared dead after arriving at a private Johannesburg hospital. There was evidence the child had fractures which were healing from previous assaults. Researchers said the police docket went missing.
In another instance, an eight-month-old baby died after suffering cardiac arrest at a day care centre. The pathologist asked the mother, a police officer, to open a case.
Again, researchers could not find the case.
“It's not up to the mother to open a case… anyone who takes care of that child could be guilty in this case, and our system has failed this child,” researcher Shanaaz Mathews said.
Mathews said several other cases were “falling through the cracks”, allowing those guilty of child abuse to go unpunished.
The study found that among children younger than four, more girls than boys were killed.
The trend changed until children reached the age of 15, when the number of boys murdered was almost double that of girls.
Girls were more likely to be killed by their mothers, while boys were more likely to be killed by another person known to them.
About half of boys murdered were killed in public spaces, while girls were killed more often inside their own homes.
Boys were more likely to be shot or stabbed to death, while girls were often strangled.
In 2009, 89 girls were abandoned within the first month of birth, compared to 72 boys. The bodies of abandoned babies were found mostly along roads or in garbage bins.
Mathews concluded that many child homicide cases were inadequately investigated, with the perpetrators rarely being held accountable.
“It is essential that we collectively develop and implement a national strategy to address child murders in South Africa,” said Mathews.
MRC specialist scientist Naeema Abrahams said the police and justice systems should provide specialised services in cases of child abuse, neglect and murder. Doctors should also play their role.
“The Children's Act mandates all medical professionals who suspect abuse to report this for further investigation; this includes your pathologist(s),” said Abrahams. - Sapa