Shaskia Michaels

Cape Town - Last week’s news of a child found dead and another gone missing made my blood run cold. As frequent as such news is in our country, this is one issue which I simply never become desensitised to. And nor should any of us.

Why does such news continue to surface week on week? Why is South Africa among the least safe countries in the world for a child? Is this how we treat our future? Is this how we treat our heritage?

Our children are the next generation of doctors, politicians, teachers, lawyers, mothers and fathers. Instead of being cared for and protected, they face greater risks than ever before.

Mothers in our poorest areas fear leaving their children - even with loved ones or in child-care facilities - because the stats are bad enough to legitimately fear the very worst.

As a nation, we should be ashamed, especially in a month when we reflect on our heritage and what it means to be South African. For these precious lives it means very little, apart from terror and hopelessness.

The tragedy of all this child abuse is that it is the poorest communities and their most vulnerable members who are most affected.

We have to start empowering our children. We must take ownership of the issues affecting their lives, as our philosophy of ubuntu calls us to do, and give them the best chances at life that we can. I would be ashamed if they one day grew up to accuse us of stealing their childhood and their hope for a better future.

I am even more ashamed that one of the most recent atrocities took place in Diepsloot, one of the very communities where Afrika Tikkun works. It is tragedies like these that make me more committed to ensuring that the organisation I work for reaches as many vulnerable children as it can.

Children need much more than just a roof and food; they need mental stimulation, the chance to grow their skills, to be exposed to different kinds of sports and hobbies and they need a community of caring adults that provides the psychological and scholastic support they need to navigate a productive future.

We need to start nurturing and empowering our heritage.

We need to provide our children with a cradle-to-career lifeline so that they don’t become the next generation of criminals with few options, but rather grow into whole, contributing members of society.

Afrika Tikkun affects more than 17 050 little lives every month by providing the facilities and support structures children need to “make it out alive”.

We have thousands of beneficiaries across Gauteng and the Western Cape who benefit from early childhood and youth development programmes, primary health care, nutrition and family support services.

Yet the question I must ask is this: is it enough to prevent another child being hurt or killed or snatched from their homes while they play? I don’t know. But I do know that the 17 000-plus we reached every month have a better hope of achieving their dreams and that while they are in our care they are protected and empowered.

Our children matter. It’s our collective responsibility to ensure that they survive and thrive. Let’s not have any more children taken from their families.

Let’s turn the tide.

Let’s contribute where we can - if not with our time or energy, then with our finances. Let’s save those lives and give them a hope and a future.

* Marc Lubner is chief executive of Afrika Tikkun, an international NGO that provides education, health and social services to children, youth and their families in South African townships.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

The Argus