Spike in child abandonments and the physical abuse of youngsters during lockdown

By Sheree Bega, Shaun Smillie and Kashiefa Ajam Time of article published May 16, 2020

Share this article:

Johannesburg - Not far from the M2 Highway, close to the Joe Slovo offramp, a passer-by saved the life of a baby boy.

No one knows how long the child had lain there, if he had experienced a cold autumn night alone, or if the person who abandoned him left him there to die.

For the operations manager of Door of Hope, Nadene Gabham, it is a further indication of how desperate families have become as the lockdown continues to inflict financial hardship across the country.

“You have no income, a mouth to feed. What are you going to do? Some mothers will give their child up for adoption, others will leave their child to die,” said Gabham.

Child abandonments have increased since lockdown, as have acts of violence against minors.

“These are the trends that we are now observing,” said Shaheda Omar, of the Teddy Bear Clinic SA. “Weeks into lockdown and we were receiving referrals of sexual abuse, where children were being preyed on by opportunistic predators within their own neighbourhoods and homes.

“Something we have noticed recently was more children who have been physically abused referred for medical attention. These are quite severe injuries we are seeing - fractures, bruises, lacerations.”

Many of these children are reluctant to reveal the cause of these injuries. The concern, she said, is that courts are not functioning normally because of the lockdown, and when cases go to court, the perpetrators are released on bail.

“These families and children are in such distress, they see the alleged perpetrator walking around and this subjects them to further fear and exacerbates their trauma. Victims are fearful of what will happen next,” said Omar.

A worrying trend noticed by child protection organisations is that older children are being abandoned.

A survey by Door of Hope found that six organisations had received 30 abandoned babies since the start of the lockdown on March 27, most from Joburg. Door of Hope has had seven babies come in over this period. One of these babies was a 9-month-old girl.

“Emotionally, she is really struggling, all she does is cry. But you can see she was well looked after,” said Gabham.

Omar has also noticed an increase in the number of children being dumped.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said the police will try and trace the parents of an abandoned child.

The problem, said Gabham, is that in most cases the parents are not found.

“Lockdown is a silent killer, but we are not going to see children die of Covid 19, they will die from the unintended consequences of Covid-19,” said Omar.

“The frustrations, desperation, manifests itself in desperate outcomes like when parents then violate their own children by rejecting and abandoning them,” Omar said.

“This is the result of the lockdown. It is something that was not foreseen, and not planned for. And not thought through. It is definitely having a ripple effect. It’s saving lives versus saving livelihoods.”

The lockdown has disrupted social services and child care and protection services, said Patrick Solomons, the director of Molo Songololo, a child rights organisation. “It has also contained children in their homes. The communication has been difficult and children accessing services has been difficult. We normally get our referrals from health workers, clinics, the police, other community organisations, and also from the schools.

“With the lockdown level 5 and level 4, we’ve basically seen child protection services interrupted and children’s access to services curtailed, which is fundamentally a big problem for children and for families.

“The cases we’ve received appear to be an increase in children attempting suicide because of domestic violence situations, increased levels of stress, lack of food security.”

There is a need to combat Covid-19 but “it must not compromise child care and protection. Many of the conditions that children experience have been there before Covid-19 and Covid-19 is highlighting them and in some cases, has increased vulnerability for children”, he said.

Isolation, said Luke Lamprecht, the advocacy manager for Women and Men Against Child Abuse, is a “cornerstone” of all abuse.

“That is just increased under the Covid-19 lockdown It has kept children in their homes where what was occurring is likely to be amplified. And it’s made children’s access to services to protect children impossible.”

Children could no longer report abuse to their teachers or sports coaches, for example.

“There is no one to disclose to.”

That children are not being adequately fed, educated, and their health-care needs not being met, is in itself a challenge.

“What you don’t do for a child is also abusive,” he said. “People can’t feed their children. Children are getting abandoned because their parents can’t care for them.”

Lamprecht added: “We acknowledge that children need to be kept safe from Covid-19 but they also need other things and it should not be mutually exclusive.”

The national department of social development did not respond yesterday.

The Saturday Star

Share this article: