Child rights organisations concerned about children involved in looting
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Johannesburg - Harrowing scenes and images of the mass looting and unrest which unfolded in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng this week gripped the nation as the rest of the world watched.
One of the most distressing sights was shocking live footage of mass looting taking place at a Durban shopping complex which aired as President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation, and pleaded with the looters to stop their dangerous actions.
In a section of broadcaster eNCA’s coverage, a young boy was seen coming out of a looted store and casually waiting outside. He was then joined by adults and another child who handed him a stolen energy drink.
Scenes like this have became a regular sight in the media as well as on social media platforms.
But director of the Teddy Bear Clinic Dr Shaheda Omar has warned that this behaviour has far-reaching and devastating consequences.
“This is very concerning, because it is teaching our children that there is a ‘quick fix’ or easier way for them to acquire material things and to receive immediate gratification,” she told The Saturday Star this week.
She added that by youngsters believing that they can get away with taking what they want without paying, and in some cases using force to do so, created the perception that crime and violence are acceptable.
“These children might feel a thrill and sense of excitement from the looting, and by seeing that the police are not stopping them, but it has the potential to create a sense of entitlement, and that there is no need for them to get an education or earn a living one day,” Omar said.
In some cases, young looters could end up as career criminals as adults, Omar warned.
“If children are unable to restrain themselves, and they see everyone gets away with it, this could propel them into a lifetime of crime,” she said.
The widespread practice of children participating in looting this week has to come from somewhere, and Omar believes that much of it stems from those around them, including their parents, caregivers and community members, and that the morals and values transmitted is that crime pays.
“It teaches them that if you exercise violence, you will get a monetary reward, and this also desensitises kids to crime,” she said.
While a significant amount of damage has already been done, Omar is an eternal optimist, and insists that many children who were part of the looting do not have to end up in a life of crime.
“We must have hope, and by reaching out to one child can end up with reaching out to even more,” Omar said.
She believes that more awareness around the dangers and implications of looting is needed, and that communities need to stand together and take a stand.
“We must teach children that by looting and destroying property, people will be unemployed, businesses will close and families will suffer,” she said.
Meanwhile, Save The Children also expressed “grave concern” for the safety of children during the civil unrest in South Africa this week.
“Save the Children is concerned children are now at even greater risk of experiencing violence or other damaging consequences because of the violence and the prolonged lockdowns,” the organisation’s CEO Steve Miller said.
He added that the safety of children must be prioritised in all circumstances, and called on all parties to ensure children do not become innocent victims.
“We can only break the patterns of poverty, exclusion, inequality – and resulting public violence - if our children are able to develop to their full potential.
“Right now, the way things are in South Africa, that is not happening for most of our children,” he said.
Miller called on corporate and government leaders to come together and take action to protect a generation of children.
“They can make a real difference for children and their families by making sure that they continue to have access to health, education, social protection systems and protection from violence, and that their rights are upheld during the pandemic and beyond,” he said.