Pretoria - While it is disturbing that we, as a civilised society, even have to embark on a 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign to be reminded how wrong gender-based violence is, it is even more shocking that our system sometimes fails our children so dismally.
Court cases involving the rape of women are most disturbing. However, it becomes even more disturbing if defenceless children are involved.
A case which has occupied my mind for the past few weeks and which had deeply disturbed me, is that of a 3-year-old who was suspected to be, at the very least, a victim of sexual assault.
The case came before the high court in Pretoria as an urgent application.
The child’s aunt, who was taking care of the girl after she was dumped there by her mother, simply wanted the public health authorities to examine her to ascertain whether she had suffered any sexual abuse.
I want to pay tribute to this very brave woman, who as the proverbial David, stood up to Goliath - the public health system - in an effort to find justice for this child.
It was claimed that she recently suffered some form of sexual abuse at the hands of her father.
The child told her in childish language that her father had inserted his penis in her genitalia, anus and mouth.
The child became terrified when she saw her father and she complained of discomfort around her genitalia.
The aunt caught the father shortly afterwards with the child on his lap. When he noticed her looking, he threw the child from his lap.
The vigilant aunt took the child to the Mamelodi Regional Hospital, where a doctor examined her and claimed he found nothing wrong.
They were sent home, but the child kept on complaining and she displayed a discharge.
This time the aunt opened a case at the police station against the father, but the police could not investigate it, as they needed a J88, a medical report from a doctor.
The same doctor again gave her a clean bill of health. The aunt took her to a private hospital, where a doctor examined her. He set out in a report exactly where he noted possible injuries to her private parts.
She was referred to the Steve Biko Hospital’s rape crisis unit for an examination under anaesthesia. This hospital would not accept the referral by a private doctor and again referred the child to the Mamelodi hospital, with the same results.
Another clean bill of health caused the aunt to turn to court, where it was ordered that Steve Biko Hospital had to examine her.
The judge also wanted answers from the health sector - not just for this child but for the many other children who were possibly in the same boat.
The answers eventually came but the health sector is sticking to its guns, that the child showed no physical signs of being molested.
No rape kit was used in this case, as the doctor did not deem that it was necessary.
The aunt was accused of trying to taint the name of the public health sector. It also accused the private doctor of knowing nothing about sexual assault examinations.
I am no medical expert, but I do know that a 3-year-old could not thumb suck details of sexual abuse, and be able to describe what happened to her. As for the aunt, it is illogical that she would spend a lot of money on embarking on legal proceedings, simply to badmouth the public health sector.
One of our slogans during this time is “enough is enough” and “don’t look away”.
I plead with all parties concerned in this case to adhere to these words and to take the child, and others, seriously.