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Child victims of gun violence live with deeper scars

Experts have advised parents whose children witnessed and were wounded during shootings to look out for post traumatic symptoms. Picture: File

Experts have advised parents whose children witnessed and were wounded during shootings to look out for post traumatic symptoms. Picture: File

Published May 15, 2022


Children who are victims of gun violence suffer years of trauma that take longer to heal than their bullet wounds.

AT least 83 children have been treated for gunshot wounds in Cape Town over the past two years and while their physical wounds may heal over time, the psychological scars remain.

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Gun violence has flared up in Cape Town among gangsters over the last few months, leaving multiple people dead. Children have also been caught in the crossfire and hit by stray bullets.

Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital said at least 12 children have been treated for bullet wounds this year alone.

And while these children have returned home, experts say psycho- social, trauma-related symptoms such as bedwetting, nightmares and regular flashbacks stay with the victims long after their scars have healed.

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Professor of Psychology at Stellenbosch University, Ashraf Kagee, said children who have been shot or experienced gun violence suffered extreme trauma long after the actual incident occurred.

“Children grow up feeling like there is a lack of safety and as victims of an attack they are often faced with shock, horror, pain and the fear of it happening again. ”

Kagee said these children are often triggered into reliving their trauma.

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“When they hear a loud bang or they drive past the place where it happened, they will go into a state of psychiatric discomfort and stress. They will have intrusive thoughts about the event,” he added.

“These children need all the support they can get. It is also important that their families receive the same type of counselling because that is usually the first stage of support or comfort.”

Kagee explained it was important for parents to look out for the signs of post-traumatic stress disorders.

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“This is why counselling for those close to the child is also important because they have the responsibility of creating a safe environment for that child, they also have to look out for the triggers weeks after the incident. ”

A mother, 28, and her son, 4, who were shot in Mitchells Plain recently said they had not received counselling or been given any advice on how to deal with trauma.

“He is at that age where he remembers things. He doesn’t sleep and keeps talking about the shooting.

“I can’t imagine how I am going to explain this to him. The day when he asks me why he was shot. What if he grows up thinking that what happened to him is okay?

“I believe every child and their parent should get counselling and not wait until the child shows signs (of distress),” said the concerned mom.

Another mom from Wesbank, whose child was shot and wounded when he was 13-years-old, said the teen suffered from flashbacks of the incident.

“I can’t even begin to imagine how scary it was for him, I had anxiety I had to work through.”

Crime activist Redaa Ameeroedien said more needed to be done to support children who fall victim to gun violence.

“We all have that mindset that children heal faster but they don’t. They still have a lifetime ahead, bounded by that shooting incident that scared them,” he said.

“We should make it a priority for the children to (receive treatment), not only the wounds but the emotional scars as well.”

Ameeroedien said the reality of children living on the Flats was knowing when to duck and dive to avoid bullets.

“Children as young as 3-years-old know they must lay flat on the ground when they hear gunshots, kids at (age) 8 (grow up) thinking that running with a gun is a sign of power and by 12 (they) join gangs,” he added.

“This has become the norm on the Cape Flats.”

Director of Molo Songololo, Patric Solomons, said they dealt with cases involving children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders as a result of gun violence.

Patrick Solomon from Molo Songololo said the affects of gunshots trauma spill over from childhood to adulthood. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

“If I can remember the very first time I heard a gunshot, imagine how it is for those children who were shot by a stray bullet?

“It shakes your very core of safety.”

Solomons said often these children grow up thinking that guns are okay.

“They play gun-gun (mimicking what happened), as innocent as it is, but it is what also messes with their psyche and will sometimes result in them partaking in that same type of violence later. Such events have a domino effect, it spills over from childhood into adulthood.”

Spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Social Development, Joshua Chigome said R210 million was budgeted for their child care and protection programme.

In the previous financial year, they rendered trauma counselling and psycho-social support to over 14 000 children.

Carla Brown, head of the department of social work at Red Cross, said they also offered counselling and referred all children for further counselling after they are discharged.