Bheki Cele, Minister of PolicePicture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)
Bheki Cele, Minister of PolicePicture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Children responsible for 779 murders in 2019/20

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Jul 31, 2020

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Johannesburg - A staggering 779 of the 21 325 murders recorded by police in South Africa between April 2019 and March 2020 were committed by children between the ages of 10 and 17.

Releasing the annual crime statistics yesterday, Police Minister

General Bheki Cele revealed the shocking figure as a contributing factor to the increased murder rate in the period under review, April 1 2019 and March 2020.

Murders committed by children increased by 43 cases this year compared to the previous year. Child rights activist, Dr Joan van Niekerk, said she is not surprised by the increase.

“We demonstrate violence to children constantly and if adults are looting and murdering, what are they expecting children to do, because children follow adult examples?

“We have to accept that children will do what they see, and this is a big problem in this country, where we see high levels of adult violence, high levels of child violence and sadly high levels of child on child violence.”

Most of the murders committed by children were in the Eastern Cape, which recorded 207 murders, and the Western Cape, at 185 murders.

The town with the highest numbers of murders committed by children is Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, which recorded a staggering 19 murders.

Van Niekerk said gang violence played a major role in the Western Cape.

“In the Western Cape, we have an enormous problem with gangs and we have to accept that gangs contribute significantly to violence committed by children.

Children are inducted into gangs at a very early age and so you see children as young as 13 in gangs. The other problem we have is the lack of parental management and control from parents.”

The Eastern Cape, she said, is more difficult to dissect.

“We know that in the Eastern Cape all services are not running well. Health services are not picking up, the Department of Social Development is not intervening early in children’s lives so they do have problems.

“Eastern Cape is in a parlous position in terms of how it is dealing with psychosocial and health issues.”

Of the 779 murders committed by children, 743 were committed by boys, while 36 murders were committed by girls.

Sexual assaults by children also rose with 389 cases reported over the past year. A footnote in the annual crime stats report revealed how recently, a 14 year-old was arrested for multiple rapes of several young minors. Six victims, aged between the ages of six and seven, were raped by the teenager in the one incident.

“The children were in the bushes trapping birds. He promised to share a bird only if they have sex with him,” it read. Van Niekerk said education could play a huge role in helping to stem crimes committed by children.

“There has been a lot of negative publicity about the life skills education programme offered by the Department of Basic Education. If you read that life skills programme, it’s actually excellent. That’s where we begin.

“We begin saying to children that violence is not a way of dealing with conflict and there are other ways of dealing with conflict. The important thing is that we teach children how to deal with conflict, anger, and how to deal with the stresses and strains that make them vulnerable to the kind of violence that we are seeing.”

Dr. Shaheda Omar, the director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, wasn’t surprised by the statistics. “I’m on the ground and it’s a constant concern that so many children are victimising. This is a direct reflection of the state of the country ... because children are a microcosm of the country.

“It reflects the state of chaos, the lack of law enforcement, the rigorous and consistent judgement that has been lacking and the lack of response or receptivity by law enforcement.”

Learner on learner violence is a contributing factor to the murder rates in the country, she said. “For us in the child protection sector, we have definitely seen an increase in incidents of learner on learner violence and adults on learner violence. A lot of it is also not reported to the authorities.

If it is reported to the authorities they actually turn them away and no cases are opened because it is a bureaucratic nightmare. Offices are not documenting it and not opening cases, so that’s why it’s also not an accurate reflection.”

The mandate of the Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (CSC) needs to be broadened. “Say for instance there is an alleged rape on a child, whether its by another child or adult and there is a murder as a result, the case is taken away from the CSC unit and it goes to another unit. So there’s a gap, and cases like these are falling through the gaps.”

The Saturday Star

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