Cape Town - Taegrin Morris, the 4-year-old boy dragged to his death by hijackers in Johannesburg over the weekend, has posthumously become an ambassador for all children in South Africa to live free of violence.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, who launched a renewed campaign to end violence against children, began her presentation in Cape Town on Tuesday with a minute of silence for Taegrin.
While she spoke of a wide range of other types of violence perpetrated against children, she said that Taegrin’s tragedy stood as a symbol of what is happening in our country.
“For people to drag a child for eight kilometres means those people lost their souls long ago and there is no way you can even begin to justify any part of their behaviour,” she said.
“It has touched the whole nation and the spirit that is moving around us now must prevail so that we act on it.”
She urged every community in South Africa to “ensure that children are safe at all times”, and said that even when we manage to avoid terrible tragedies like the one over the weekend, “children are also dying from negligence by their parents”.
She added that the government had worked hard over the past 20 years to improve the lives of children in the country.
Herve Ludovic de Lys, country director of Unicef South Africa which is the government’s partner in the campaign, said ending violence was everyone’s business.
He said all South Africans needed to be reminded that silence was not acceptable, and that, “while government has put good systems in place”, they will “only work if they are owned by the larger population”.
Deputy director-general of the Department of Social Services Connie Nxumalo said the government had recognised the need for synergy between departments when it came to children, and that a technical team with a five-year programme of action had been making progress.
“Our department chairs that technical team, and we bring all people from different departments together because early childhood development does cut across everything.”
Some of the other departments involved in the child-focused programme of action included education and health, and Nxumalo said that while systems were in place, these needed to be “strengthened further”.
Dlamini concurred that child protection was also part of a greater drive towards early childhood development which encompasses health, nutrition, education and stimulation.
“We have started participating in the first ‘1 000 days and early life campaign’ that lays a good foundation for (all types of) development for children.
“We want to invest in them so that they themselves have a brighter future but that they also contribute to the development of our country and are good future leaders.”
According to researchers, the first 1 000 days of a child’s life – from conception to the second birthday – are fundamental to shaping their future.
Apart from nutrition, safety, protection, stimulation and a loving environment, early life as a foundation was also influenced by the mental health of the mother while the child was in utero, they said.