Pretoria - Children in South African are at considerable risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation as a result of high levels of violence, inequality and poverty.
In a new briefing paper launched yesterday by the global network of civil society organisations that works to end the sexual exploitation of children, it was revealed that the country ranked high among those with a poor response to child exploitation.
The paper was compiled using information included in the Out Of The Shadows Index, which was developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit to measure how nations were addressing child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Department of Social Development, UN Children’s Fund, Jelly Beanz and the SAPS were involved in providing data and context to Ecpat International, formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking.
Ecpat head of research and policy Mark Kavenagh said the study revealed that South Africa ranked 16th out of the 60 countries scored by the Out of the Shadows Index on the response to child sexual exploitation and abuse.
“The review indicates that despite the scarcity of prevalence studies, there are numerous indications that South African children are exposed and vulnerable to a variety of forms of sexual exploitation,” he said.
The different categories of child sexual exploitation blurred the lines, and people needed to be properly educated about the terminologies.
Child, early and forced marriage was put in context and defined.
“In some cultures, children are often subjected to ukuthwalwa at a very young stage.
“Under civil law, the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years for boys and 15 for girls. Research has shown married children are more vulnerable to abuse, and to emotional and physical violence,” said Kavenagh.
Deputy executive director at Ecpat Thomas Muller said it was often underprivileged children who were targeted and fell victim to exploitation, and poverty was the highest among children. The report confirmed it was often associated with sexual exploitation.
“We’ve found all the manifestations of sexual exploitation, and it’s important that we acknowledge that certain companies and organisations try to make it less urgent, and there’s no country that doesn’t have that problem,” he said.
Major-General Bafana Linda of the SAPS said the online world, of which many adults were not part, made children more vulnerable.
Linda said although police were trained to approach and address the situation, there was a need to intensify the training and sensitisation.
“We live in two worlds. There’s a physical world where we now are and there’s also the cyber world where a lot of children are and, unfortunately, a lot of adults are not there in terms of protection,” he said.
He said they were going as far as having computer crimes investigations which looked at exploitation online, but it was an area that needed development.
He said child pornography was a complex category because often children subjected them selves to it in those situations.