ANOTHER LOSS: A memorial for Courtney Pieters, 3, whose body was found in a shallow grave a kilometre from her home in Elsies River. Mortimer Saunders has pleaded guilty to her murder. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)
Cape Town - The appointment of a children’s commissioner would not necessarily reduce the number of child murders in the province but would lead to the improvement of police investigations and put pressure on government departments to act against the scourge.

This was the view of the director of the Children’s Institute, Professor Shanaaz Mathews, interviewed following the murder of six-year-old Stacey Adams in Mitchells Plain.

Her body was found in a shallow grave next to a wendy house occupied by her mother’s boyfriend, who was arrested and was to appear in the Mitchells Plain Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday in connection with her death.

“Research has shown that our child protection system is failing children, and they fall through the cracks,” Mathews said. A system was needed that provided families with the support they needed, to ensure they were able to provide children with stable, nurturing and safe environments.

Earlier this year, child rights advocacy groups called for the appointment of a children’s commissioner following the murder of at least 66 children in the province. But Mathews said a children’s commissioner, and a commission of inquiry into child murders, would not result in fewer children being murdered. However, they would spur police to improve their investigations and put pressure on government departments to act.

“Commissions of inquiry as well as a children’s commissioner will highlight the problem, but government and communities must act now. The poor management of child protection cases, particularly.... poor risk assessment by social workers to determine if a child is in need of care and protection, contributes to children remaining in high-risk families, and that plays a role in children dying from child abuse and neglect.”

Mathews said last year the bodies of 30 children that died at home due to child abuse and neglect were counted at Salt River Mortuary.

“Children are most likely to be killed by someone they know... It is very difficult for children to protect themselves against someone who should be caring for them and protecting them.”

The director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for abused women and children, Bernadine Bacha, reiterated the call for a children’s commissioner.

“There is absolutely an urgent need for the establishment of a co-ordinated, multi-sectoral national platform to address violence against our children.

“The shocking statistics of violence against children attest to the fact that we are losing the battle to protect children.”

The spokesperson for Premier Helen Zille’s office, Jamie Turkington, said the Children’s Commissioner Bill was before the provincial legislature.

“This scourge necessitates a whole-of-society approach as the authorities cannot police what happens within a person’s home, and nor can a commissioner for children,” he said.

Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said the department’s Eye-on-the-child programme was set up to prevent child murders.

[email protected]

Cape Argus