File photo: Independent Newspapers

Durban - Sipho was only six when he raped a girl two years older than he was. He did not rape her because he understood sex, but because he had just watched his 19-year-old role model rape the child.

As Sipho had no positive male influence in his life and was effectively raising himself while his poor, ill-educated mother worked to put food on their table, he was forced to find his own influences. This 19-year-old from his community was the man he chose to model his life on.

Sipho’s story is just one of many that Val Melis, a senior public prosecutor at the Durban Magistrate’s Court, believes is indicative of a growing problem. Many children’s home and social environments are fuelling sexual and physical violence against women and children.

She was addressing Diakonia Council of Churches guests at the Berea United Congregational Church in Durban on Wednesday on gender-based violence and the urgent need to socialise boys. Speaking from her experience working in the field of child abuse and gender-based violence for most of her 23 years as a prosecutor, Melis said South Africans were “sitting on a ticking time bomb” when it came to boys perpetrating violence towards girls.

“Many of us, as parents, have abrogated our God-given responsibility to parent and raise our children. We expect everyone but ourselves to raise our children and then are quick to blame the government when things go wrong,” she said.

“It is not the role of the government, social workers, schools or the police to raise our children.”

Melis said research had showed that up to 80 percent of what children learned - such as socialisation skills, interpersonal relationships and a sense of belonging - they learned at home. Without these skills, children were sent into the world ill-equipped.

 

The focus in recent years on girls, equipping them to prevent or fight off unwanted sexual advances, had not been as successful as hoped, so Melis said it was time to shift the focus to boys from a young age.

“We need to start as young as six,” she said.

Melis said that a 2000 study into the nature of adolescent sexual offenders between seven and 15 found that they shared many characteristics with young sex offenders in other countries. Most came from backgrounds characterised by domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and violent criminal activity.

“The majority of the South African group was frequently exposed to aggressive and forced sexual behaviour,” Melis said.

Numerous studies had also shown that South African families were increasingly deviating from the conventional nuclear family of mom, dad and children.

“The unacceptably high rates of domestic violence in South Africa have not helped the problem of socialisation of children,” said Melis.

The Mercury