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43% of children aged 10 to 17 who died in the W Cape were murdered

Emaan Solomons, 7, was among 140 children murdered in the Western Cape last year. Photo - Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Emaan Solomons, 7, was among 140 children murdered in the Western Cape last year. Photo - Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 10, 2021

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Of the 954 children who died in the Western Cape during the past nine-months, 13% were murdered.

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This is according to figures released by the MEC for Health Nomafrench Mbombo this week in response to a written question over child deaths in the province between January and September.

The report showed that of 954 deaths, 490 were as a result of natural causes, while 125 were murdered and 99 were deemed accidental deaths.

Forensic Pathology Services data shows the cause of death among the 954 children who died in the Western Cape this year. Graphic: Timothy Alexander.

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Analysis of the data showed that of the 244 deaths for children aged 10 and to 19, 105 of those were murdered which accounted for 43% of the child deaths in that age group.

Last week, two children were killed in gang violence just 48 hours apart. Scarlett Cottle, 4, died from a bullet to the head at her Ottery home, and Sinawo Man, 10, died close to his Tambo Village home in Manenberg.

Dr Chris Jones from the University of Stellenbosch, who was a part of an academic review committee, set up by then Premier Helen Zille in 2017, to look into drivers of child murders in the Western Cape, said it was concerning that figures were so high.

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Jones said mortuary data from 2014-2016 analysed by the Child Death Review Panel which they worked with showed that:

*Murders of children under one year accounted for 7% of all deaths in that age group.

* Murders of children from 1–9 years stood at 5% of all deaths.

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* And the leading cause of death among children aged 10-17 was murder, at about 40%.

Jones said the current data showed how little had changed between figures analysed then and now.

“The latest numbers provided by the MEC for Health, (shows) homicide of children under 1 years of age: 2% now versus 7% then, in the age group 1 to 9 homicide was 6% now versus 5% then; children 10 years and older, homicide numbers were currently 43% versus 40% then,” he said.

At the time, the committee made five key recommendations that centred around the formulation of a provincial action plan to address gaps, a localised inter-agency collaboration, investigation methods and calls for further research into early detection and prevention methods.

“I would like to know whether cabinet through the relevant departments as indicated in the research report have implemented these recommendations. And what has been done by the Western Cape Commissioner for Children, in this respect? If not implemented, we have wasted our time,” said Jones.

“There does not appear to have been great improvement regarding homicide since the research report was submitted in 2018. Too many children die in the Western Cape. According to the Forensic Pathology Services there were 954 deaths of which 125 were homicide, the previous year it was 140. This is too many.”

The director of the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute, Dr Shanaaz Matthews said: “Homicide often gets undercounted, for example we have a large problem of babies being dumped soon after birth and many of those cases get ruled as undetermined deaths.

“Yet, they are infanticide as these babies either die from exposure or are killed through smothering, but cannot be established,” she said.

According to the report, at least 30 deaths were deemed undetermined of which all were children aged younger one. Another 56 deaths were still under investigation.

This week, Manenberg police were called to a scene where the remains of a foetus were found in a cooler box under the bed of a 13-year-old, whose parents had not known that she was pregnant.

“Your accident category also needs to be interrogated as therein lie potential homicide cases as well.

“The Western Cape Government developed a policy on child murders, but it does require a collaborative response and investment by government to ensure that we have the best data available. What was presented is not good enough as it raises more questions than answers,” said Matthews.

The ANC’s MPL Gladys Bakubaku-Vos said she was disheartened to see the high numbers of children dying.

“The Western Cape has always recorded higher cases of child murders and there are no dedicated programmes to address this,” she said.

“We reiterate our calls to the provincial government to put measures in place to improve child safety and for the intervention of the Children’s Commissioner.”

Just last week the Children’s Commissioner’s office released its first annual report, which did not make mention of child murders in the province.

Premier Alan Winde’s spokesperson, Cayla Murray, said the provincial government adopted and implemented a plan to reduce child murders, as well as a plan for the National Anti-Gang strategy.

“In 2019, both of these plans have been embedded in the Western Cape Safety Plan ... the province has expanded the number of GBV shelters from 16 to 25,” she said.

“We have deployed more than 1000 LEAP officers in police precincts where murder rates are highest, 180 additional social service professionals and1 005 youth safety ambassadors.”

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