Durban - Childline KZN said it was anticipating an increase in child rape and gender-based violence as the lockdown progressed.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has also warned of living conditions that could contribute to the anticipated problem.
Gareth Newham, the head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the ISS, said a concern was that with many unemployed, or those who had just lost their jobs, this could result in more incidents of domestic violence, and possibly sexual and gender-based violence. “Millions of people live in single rooms and cramped conditions in informal settlements or crowded inner-city buildings. They will struggle to make substantial adjustments to their lives to mitigate the spread of the virus. Being forced to stay indoors for weeks could result in heightened tensions between people in households,” he said.
During the first week of lockdown, the SAPS received 2320 complaints of gender-based violence.
“This is 37% higher than the weekly average for the 87290 gender-based violence cases reported during 2019. The national Gender-Based Violence Command Centre said they had had triple the usual number of calls. Research by the SA Medical Research Council found that 56% of female murder victims in South Africa were killed by their intimate partners,” he said.
Newham said another concern was that almost 45% of child murder victims died as a result of abuse or neglect, often at the hands of their mothers.
“Because the lockdown is unprecedented - in South Africa and elsewhere - there is no clear evidence yet for its effect on crime and violence.
“It could even yield positive developments with regards to overall levels of interpersonal violence,” Newham said.
Adeshini Naicker, the acting director of Childline KZN, said their organisation was anticipating an increase in child rape and gender-based violence.
“This can be attributed to the fact that some people are just bored, while also living in confined conditions with abusive and alcoholic spouses may aggravate the situation,” she said.
Jackie Branfield, the founder of children’s rights advocacy group Bobbi Bear, said her organisation was finding it difficult to cope.
“We have a specific mandate. A lot of people think we are an orphanage, but we are not. We are a place of safety,” she said.
Branfield said communities had been asking the organisation to take in street kids, which they were not able to do.
“There are NGOs whose expertise is street children. We cannot take kids in unless they have been tested by the government and have been quarantined for 14 days, because we have to look after the children we have,” said Branfield.
She said she had not noticed any increase in cases that they have had to deal with, which was concerning.
“My child safety officers are still working, they are getting horror stories but have not been able to verify them, which means it could be fake news.
“The fact that no proper cases are coming through to us is terrifying,” said Branfield.