The week, celebrated under the theme “Let us all protect children to move South Africa forward”, aims to raise awareness and to mobilise all sectors and communities towards understanding the perspective of holistic development regarding the care and protection of children.
The campaign this year puts emphasis on the importance of the first 1 000 days of a child, especially since 2018 was declared the “Year of ECD (Early Childhood Development)”.
During the launch, Van Staden said that South Africa was currently “gripped by a crisis that impacted on every member of society”.
“Our communities are gripped by fear and are desperate for a solution to end violence against those most vulnerable. The killing of our children and women needs to stop and it needs to stop now. The purpose of this gathering is exactly that. It is a call to action. It’s a call for help and it is a call to wake up and stand together as we have done today,” Van Staden said.
He added that despite “an arsenal of progressive and protective legislation to deal with child maltreatment, South Africa is still marked by high levels of violence against and exploitation of children”.
“Recorded levels do not accurately reflect the full extent of the problem because many cases go unreported.
“Violence has long-lasting consequences for children, with strong evidence of a link between childhood violence and adult mental health disorders and substance abuse.
“Notwithstanding the best efforts of government and civil society to protect children from abuse and violence, many still remain vulnerable. Many families face severe challenges in protecting and caring for their children.
“Firstly, South Africa has inherited a legacy of violence, extreme inequality and social dislocation. Lastly, the country’s huge HIV and Aids burden has resulted in high levels of orphanhood. Childhoods are stolen as children are forced to take on adult roles as caregivers to ill parents or of siblings in child-headed households.”
Van Staden also said that children with disabilities remained one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in society.
“Facing daily discrimination, they are effectively barred from realising their rights to health care, education and even survival. They are less likely to attend school, access health care or have their voices heard in society. Their disabilities also place them at a higher risk of physical abuse and sexual exploitation.”
South Africa introduced the inclusive education policy in 1996 acknowledging the challenges of access to education for children with disabilities.
Van Staden further pointed out that to date more children with disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools as compared to special schools, receiving the same quality education and studying the same curriculum as their able-bodied peers.
“The protection of children with albinism is also included.
“Although a lot has been done to promote the safety and protection of children, more needs to be done. And it starts with each and every one of us. We have an obligation to ensure that every child is safe and protected.”
Van Staden concluded by saying that it was horrendous to hear stories of young children suffering at the hands of adults.
“It is heart wrenching that the perpetrators (in many cases) are the parents who should have protected that child with their own lives.”