Cape Town - Over the past 25 years the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) in Cape Town, South Africa, has seen an increase in the numbers and severity of child abuse and neglect cases at the facility.
During the first five months of 2019 alone, over 270 children seen at the hospital have been victims of child abuse, neglect or violence against children. As Child Protection Week is acknowledged the data shows this is just the tip of the iceberg.
According to the Optimus National Prevalence Study, an estimated 42% of South Africa’s children have experienced some form of maltreatment and 82% have either experienced or witnessed some form of victimisation:
Physical abuse – one in three (35%)
Sexual abuse – one in three (35%)
Emotional abuse – one in four (26%)
Neglect – one in five (21%)
At RCWMCH we see children who have been shot, beaten, burnt, neglected and sexually abused with many children experiencing more than one type of abuse. Children experience violence in places where they should feel safe to play and learn, such as homes, schools and playgrounds. In most cases the perpetrator is someone the child knows and trusts but is not limited to men.
Boys are equally victims. There is a near 50% split between boys and girls presenting with abuse, violence and neglect. According to the 2016 Optimus National Prevalence Study, 1 in 3 boys and girls have experienced sexual abuse, yet only one third of these young victims ask for help with boys being less likely to do so.
Types of violence against children, Jan – May 2019 (N = 273)
Physical abuse: 88
Sexual abuse: 45
Dog bites: 18
Gunshot injuries: 17
Child at risk: 11
The effects of violence, neglect and abuse against children can last a lifetime. Girls tend to internalise the violence and experience depression and anxiety which increases their risk of further victimisation, while boys externalise their experience through increased risk taking and aggressive behaviour.
Children also learn from watching the adults around them, and children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become neglectful or abusive parents. It is therefore vital to intervene early to break the intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse.
Violence against women and children share common risk factors and are likely to occur in the same households, so it is important to intervene early and offer support before things get out of hand.
“Our focus on child protection should not be for one week in the year, but should include an ongoing focus on making communities safer, tackling societal problems like drug and alcohol abuse that contribute to child abuse and violence and developing programs that are aimed at educating young people and keeping them safe,” said Premier Alan Winde.
Premier Winde also said he looked forward to working together with the Western Cape Provincial Parliament to find the right candidate to act as the province’s first Children’s Commissioner.
The legislation which was gazetted at the end of March dictates that specific steps need to be taken in the appointment of the Children’s Commissioner.
“We call on doctors, nurses, teachers, friends, family and community members to have a heart, to have the courage to look, listen and to reach out and support children in need of care and protection,” said Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health.
The Western Cape Government has a number of programs in place aimed at children and the youth, including the After-School Game Changer project, which allows pupils to participate in after school activities in order to improve educational outcomes and minimize risk taking behaviours. Over 80 000 learners participated in this programme regularly in the past year.
The WGC has established youth cafes across the province, which record around 10 000 visits per month.
The Department of Social Development has since 2009, quadrupled the number of youths benefiting from youth development services.
Over 75 000 children received placement in government funded Early Childhood Development Centres in 2018.
Any person can report suspected child abuse or neglect if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that a child is in need of care and protection.
Please report these cases to: A dedicated child protection organisation (e.g. ChildLine); the Provincial Department of Social Development; or to the South African Police Service.