Louisa Koekemoer in tears after her murder conviction.
Children's rights groups applauded the judgment in the North Gauteng High Court this week which found the biological mother and stepfather of three-year-old Poppie van der Merwe guilty of murder.

Local organisations lent their voice to the judgment, including Childline KwaZulu-Natal, which called it a victory for child abuse cases in South Africa.

“Although there is victory in the guilty conviction, it comes with the sad realisation that had any individual taken action, Poppie would still be alive.

"We at Childline KZN appeal to the public to act as advocates for our children, to be a voice for them.

"Do not look away. Help reduce the increasing statistics of abuse against our children by reporting any suspicious behaviour,” said Childline KZN operations manager Adeshini Naicker.

Nicky Hardwick of local organisation Just Us 4 Children said the judgment was a move in the right direction, but it was a drop in the ocean when it came to the fight against child abusers.

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“We wish for more judgments like this. It’s too late - the child cannot be brought back, but at least we are making headway in terms of children’s rights violations, child abuse and the law,” said Harwick.

The trial court became emotional when Poppie's five-year-old brother said the last recollection he had of his sister was of her lying lifeless on her bed, with her teddy bear next to her.

He told the court that he “never played with her again”.

The child claimed his stepfather had earlier flushed Poppie’s head down the toilet, while his mother stood in the doorway watching. He had then asked his mother to put her on the bed.

The boy, who may not be identified, was also abused by his biological mother, Louisa, and by his stepfather.

The pair were convicted of murdering Poppie and abusing the boy over eight months.

“She was only a toddler of three when she eventually died in October last year,” the judge said.

By the time Poppie’s lifeless body arrived at Brits Hospital, she had bruises and injuries from head to toe. The fatal injury was caused by blunt force trauma to her head.

In court the parents turned on each other, each blaming the other for inflicting the head injury.

But Judge Bam said it did not matter who had dealt the final blow that caused Poppie’s death: both were equally guilty.

He convicted the pair on the doctrine of common purpose. Both were present when the fatal and final blows were inflicted. They knew what was going on and they undoubtedly knew it was possible the child could die.

Poppie’s head was repeatedly banged against a wall in the days leading to her death. This caused her to lose consciousness on several occasions.

Her parents told the court she was naughty and liked to “play dead”.

Judge Bert Bam said there was overwhelming evidence that both Poppie and her brother had been assaulted over a number of months.

The judge remarked that these two defenceless children had repeatedly been abused, but the authorities in Orania barely lifted a finger to assist them. He said despite witnessing the bruises on the children during the months leading to Poppie’s death, they did very little to report the abuse.

He said the teachers, social worker, doctor, nurse and dominee were all aware that alarm bells were going off.

Some made notes of the injuries, while others reported their suspicions to the social worker in town. She said she kept a close eye on the family, but she did notify social services in a nearby town. They denied that they knew about the abuse.

Judge Bam said adults had a legal obligation to protect children in terms of common law, the Children’s Act and the constitution.

The police were called in for the first time by the doctor who was confronted with Poppie’s lifeless body on October 25 last year.

Annari du Plessis of the Go Purple Foundation said there should have been many more people in the dock with the parents.

“Why did no one call the police? Why did no one remove these children before she was killed?

"She was in danger and no one helped her.”

Du Plessis said there were many more children out there in desperate need of help, but who were being failed by those who were supposed to protect them.

Sentencing proceedings were postponed to February 28, as both the convicted wanted to obtain pre-sentencing reports.

Sunday Independent