Children violated by those 'known to them’

Joshlin Rachelin Smith.

Joshlin Rachelin Smith.

Published Mar 16, 2024


The case of missing six-year-old girl, Joshlin Rachelin Smith, who was allegedly ‘sold’ for R20 000, has shone the spotlight on the number of children who are ‘violated’ - especially at the hands of those meant to protect and care for them.

Joshlin ‘mysteriously’ disappeared from her home in Middelpos, Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape, on February 19. According to reports, she was left in the care of her mother’s boyfriend as she was unwell and did not attend school that day. Her mother had apparently gone to work.

While the search for the Grade one pupil has continued unabated over the past three weeks, four people, including her mother, were arrested last week.

Joshlin’s mother, Racquel Chantel Smith and her boyfriend, Jacques Rowhan Appolis, together with Steveno Dumaizio Duwayne Van Rhyn, and Phumza Sigaqa appeared in the Vredenburg Magistrates Court last Thursday.

They were charged with trafficking for the purpose of exploitation and kidnapping. The case was adjourned for bail to today(Wednesday).

The State intends on opposing bail. All the accused were remanded in custody.

According to unconfirmed reports, Joshlin was allegedly sold for R20 000 - possibly to a traditional healer.

Children’s rights activists and welfare organisations, say this is the stark reality for many children across the country - who suffer various forms of abuse, rape, molestation, and are even trafficked.

Daniel Chettiar, founder of DSK group, said many children were ‘sold’ to pay of parent’s drugs or alcohol debts.

“On average, we are informed of about eight to 10 cases a months of minors who have been violated - be it rape, being inappropriately touched, beaten or even sold. In many of these cases, a person that is known to them - their parents, step-parents, close relatives or family friends does these acts. We can say 98% of the perpetrators are often known to the child, ” he said.

Chettiar said in one case, a 13-year-old girl was allegedly made to do sexual favours - to pay a tavern bill of about R400, owed by her father.

“We also have cases where young girls are sold to feed their parent’s drug addiction. They are also exposed to a life of drugs. We have had other cases of children - boys and girls, who are inappropriately touched by someone they know from their community.”

He said there was need for more action on the ground to combat crimes against children.

Charlene Singh, chairperson of WomanPACT, a non-profit organisation, said statistics showed that 55.5% of victims were female and 44.5% were male, with a significant portion falling between the ages of 12 and 25.

“In economically disadvantaged areas, the prevalence is even more alarming. We also frequently receive reports of severe violence and abuse occurring almost daily.”

Singh said child exploitation encompassed a range of dire circumstances: “From children being exploited for begging, neglected, and denied access to education, to enduring sexual abuse, involvement in prostitution, and being coerced into drug-related criminal activities.”

She said in the majority of cases, perpetrators were individuals known to the child, with a significant portion having direct familial ties.

“Most recently, there was a case of an 11-year-old girl in Phoenix, who had not been attending school for the past three to four years. She was allegedly coerced by her parents, who are known drug addicts, to beg on street corners. It is further alleged that the child was sexually exploited in exchange for money to maintain her parent’s drug habits.”

Singh said the fight against this scourge was hindered by a lack of resources and inadequate government support.

“There is also a need for stronger and more effective local police support mechanisms and an insurgence of resources to organisations.

“Furthermore, increased community involvement is required for safeguarding child safety and well-being, with community members serving as essential gatekeepers in identifying and addressing issues related to child exploitation and trafficking,” she said.

Aroona Chetty, director of Phoenix Child Welfare, said they received at least six allegations of a child being violated per week.

“Sadly, many cases are not reported, and only come to us after some time. However, molestation is reported most often, but difficult to prove if the medical examination shows that the hymen is intact. We also get cases of young boys being molested by other children in schools. Sometimes schools do not report these matters.

“We also receive many neglect and physical abuse matters when parents are using drugs or abusing alcohol,” she said.

Chetty said 90% of the time, the perpetrators were known to the victim.

“It is usually close family members, such as the father, grandfather, mother’s partner, or a neighbour, family friend and other relatives. In one of the cases reported to us, the mother’s partner was interfering with the child for about five years and her sister eventually reported the matter to us, and the child was placed with the grandparents,” she said.

Chetty said the welfare organisation recently dealt with a case of two children who were allegedly trafficked.

“Earlier this month, someone had put a photograph on social media of the children who were up for adoption. A couple, who are our clients and are being screened for adoption, called the person and fetched the children from the road with their birth documents.

“A week later, the father came out of prison and was looking for his children. The matter was reported to the police who are investigating this matter,” she said.

Chetty said one of the reasons that children being violated went unreported, was due to the mothers not believing them.

“This resulted in the abuse being ongoing for years, before the child received help. However, when we are informed of such cases where mothers don't believe their children, we have to remove them from their homes and this causes them further trauma.

“In some cases, mothers sometimes choose their partners, and we have to remove children and place them in a children's home. There are also times where children are blamed for the breakup of the family and they feel so guilty that the case is then dropped, and due to insufficient evidence, the children return to the home where the perpetrator is still living,” she said.

Chetty said one of their challenges was that cases took a long time to be finalised.

“Sadly, the criminal justice system is not child-friendly. We have a case where the child is going to turn 18 this year, and 10 years later, the matter is not finalised,” she said.

Chetty said communities needed to be vigilant and report a case to their nearest child welfare.

“Furthermore, communities need to know that they cannot just pick up children and take care of them, they need to report the matter and let the authorities, such as the welfare to investigate the matter,” she said.

Logan Naidu, president of Chatsworth Child Welfare, said they received, on average, two to three cases of children being sexually violated or trafficked a month. “While the frequency of such cases are not as high as the other cases of abuse we receive, it still remains a problem in communities.

“The perpetrators are usually someone close to the child or their parents. It can be a relative, family friend or even a member of a faith-based organisation,” he said.

Naidu said there was a need for more education and awareness with children.

“We run specific programmes at schools to make the children aware of what is grooming, or the types of abuse, and that they must not be afraid to speak out. Together with the children, we need community members to come forward and act as advocates for the children and not turn a blind-eye. Contact us, anonymously, we will do the rest, “ he said.

Adeshini Naicker, acting director of Childline KZN, said their helpline received an average of 5000 calls a month related to various forms of abuse.

She said the number of cases of child violation, including abuse and assault, that were reported, highlighted the urgent need for urgent intervention and preventive measures.

“To improve child protection in KZN, a collaborative approach is important. This involves widespread education and awareness programmes on child rights and safety, legal reforms with strengthened penalties, and increased availability of support services.

“Furthermore, communities play a vital role through engagement, task forces, and parenting support programmes. Early intervention programmes and research help to identify and address risk factors, while public awareness campaigns improve advocacy and reporting,” she said.

Naicker said helping children stay safe was tough due to various challenges.

“Gaps in the legal system also affect the potential prosecution of offenders and the protection of children. However, overcoming these challenges requires efforts to allocate resources, challenge societal norms, promote awareness, and strengthen our legal system,” she said.


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