Abused children suffer secondary trauma due to delays

Dr Shaheda Omar, director of Teddy Bear Clinic. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Dr Shaheda Omar, director of Teddy Bear Clinic. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Published Dec 15, 2023


The Teddy Bear Foundation (TBF), a children’s rights organisation, is concerned about the increase in the number of cases that remain unresolved for up to two years at a time.

The clinic says it is increasingly dealing with investigating officers, prosecutors and other officials who fail to finalise matters, and at times fail to communicate reasons for the delays.

Director of the non-profit organisation, Dr Shaheda Omar told Saturday Star that Soweto, the West Rand and other parts of Gauteng were littered with cases of secondary trauma brought on by lack of effective management of cases involving vulnerable children, who had suffered trauma at the hands of their abusers.

Omar said in spite of policies aimed at protecting the rights of children, the the situation on the ground was bad with too many unresolved legal matters due to failure by investigating officers to prioritise child victims.

Her concerns come at the tail end of the 16 Days of Activism for no Violence Against Children and Women on December 10.

“There is lack of capacity to deal with GBV and children. There seems to be no recourse and that ties no resources to deal with GBV involving children. We find that 50% of children who are being abused involve child to child abuse, while the rest involve adults. When we approach social development, we are referred back to the police and justice departments,’ Omar said.

She said cited the case of a teenager from Krugersdorp who was physically assaulted by a parent who is a police officer. Following the incident, the family laid a charge at the police station.

“The family in this case have informed us that they are not happy with the way this matter is being handled as there is no feedback that has been given to them, more than a year since the case was opened. It appears that the investigating officer wants to protect the alleged perpetrator,” she said.

In another matter, Omar revealed that a parent had complained that when she went to report a case of child abuse, nobody was keen to help her at their police station.

In another case, the perpetrator was released, resulting in the family suffering secondary trauma due to threats and further victimisation of the rape victim.

“We have another case of a grade 11 learner who was physically assaulted by her Maths teacher at school. The learner and the daughter of the educator were involved in a fight on the school grounds. When the mother (Teacher) heard about the fight, she beat up the learner who is our client. Following that she was arrested and released.

“ The educator continues to teach at the school and make this learner uncomfortable. She has told the learner that her husband is a senior police officer and nothing will happen to her.”

Omar said another worrying case before her foundation, involved two children from Roodepoort who were kidnapped in July last year.

“The matter was brought to the attention of the Foundation in February 2023. A competency assessment was conducted with both children who are competent to testify in court.”

The mother always follows up on the matter but receives no feedback from the police officer.

‘On the 28th of August 2023, she went to court and learnt that the matter was closed. She does not know how they arrived at that conclusion and would like to take the matter further up with SAPS provincial office,“ Omar said.

CEO of Mazi Asset Management, Malungelo Zilimbola says the country’s constitution is clear on the rights, dignity and protection of children.

“Section 28 of the Bill of Rights aptly states that every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation. Nonetheless, every day, SA’s children experience harm in one form or another.

“Children are the most vulnerable members of our society and it is our duty as adults, organisations and communities to shield them from harm,” said Zilombola.

Gauteng police spokesperson, Colonel Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi said it was difficult to comment on specific cases, adding that cases may be classified differently which made then difficult to resolve.

“Kindly note that you can access the released stats on the official SAPS website. Otherwise, you should apply for access to information because there are no cases registered as child abuse, it will either be assault, sexual assault, rape, murder or attempted murder depending on the merits of each case and there must be an analysis made to determine which cases involved children,” she said.

In 2016, the first-ever nationally representative study of child maltreatment in the country was published. The study indicated that over 40% of young people experienced some form sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse or neglect at some point in their lives.

Saturday Star