As South Africa marks Child Protection Week, several humanitarian organisations have voiced their concerns on the recent upsurge of violence against girls and young children.
Recent statistics show that one in three children in South Africa experience violence while one in five children of school-going age experience sexual violence.
World Vision South Africa, the global humanitarian organisation, has emphasised that the current state of violence against children should be declared a national disaster. “The country is faced daily by horrific reports of violence against children which, at its current rate, will snowball to impact many generations to come,” said Paula Barnard, the national director of World Vision South Africa.
Barnard said the country's ongoing violence against children painted an incredibly bleak picture and underscored the findings by the first national prevalence study conducted last year and highlighted by the Children's Institute “Out of Harm's Way?” report, which estimated that as much as 34 percent of the country's children are the victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they reach the age of 18.
The study further states that in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga alone, more than half the children reported a lifetime prevalence of physical abuse by caregivers, teachers or relatives.
“As a collective group of humanitarian organisations, churches and the Department of Social Development, we are worried about the shocking levels of violence against children, we simply can't keep up with the investment required to reach children affected by violence.”
Barnard said that a recent national dialogue on violence against children held by the Mandela Initiative and UCT’s Children's Institute also made it abundantly clear that the allocated budget by the Treasury to the Department of Social Development for Child Protection services was grossly inadequate and that “drastic steps need to be taken”.
In the wake of this, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) said that it was alarmed by recent reports of women and girls – some as young as two years old – being brutally raped, mutilated and killed.
“Unicef is calling on government, civil society and community members to accelerate ongoing actions and increase investment in prevention and early intervention programmes to promote violence-free communities,” said Unicef South Africa representative Hervé Ludovic de Lys.
“These horrific crimes are yet another sign that violence is a daily reality for too many women and children living in South Africa.
"Unicef is deeply saddened and expresses its heartfelt condolences to the families of these young girls and women.”
Janis Chapman, a spokesperson for Childline, said that as the country reflected on the news over past few months, “it would appear that children themselves have little to celebrate in relation to their safety and the protection of their rights within the home, within the school and in the wider community in which they live”.
“Child Protection Week this year should be a week in which we do not target children – how do we expect a six-month-old baby, a three-year-old toddler to protect themselves?
“We should be targeting our politicians, governments, private sector, communities, faith and religious leaders, families and those with responsibility to look after children to look deeply at the role they play in ensuring the protection of children in their life space.
“Let us then use this National Child Protection Week to awaken the commitment of every single person in South Africa to start taking responsibility for the protection of children.”
On Sunday, the organisation also launched its new Childline online counselling, protection and intervention service “in its endeavour to continue being relevant and keep up with the times”.
Chapman said the service was offered nationally from Monday to Friday, initially from 2pm to 6pm.
It is available free of charge to children and youth in South Africa under the age of 21, as well as to adults with concerns. “Our chat rooms can be accessed by visiting the Childline website: www.childlinesa.org.za and then clicking on the ‘Chat to a Counsellor’ button.”
The SAPS has also called on community members to report any suspicion of child abuse, neglect or exploitation of children, not only during Child Protection Week, but at any given time.
Police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo said that any member who refused to give the necessary attention to a victim of domestic violence and sexual offences would face criminal prosecution in terms of the Domestic Violence Act, as well as departmental prosecution in terms of SAPS regulations.
Naidoo said the best way to overcome these problems was through prevention.
“Every incident of abuse suffered by a child or a woman reflects our failure to respond to the cries of the most vulnerable in our midst and it is in our power to contribute to the fight against the abuse of women and children.”
Child abuse can be reported to Childline on its 24-hour toll-free Crisis-Line on 0800 055 555 or to the SAPS on 10111.