Cape Town - The National Centre for Child Protection is deeply concerned about the number of abuse and neglect cases against children in our country. Experts believe the Covid-19 pandemic had a big impact as it gave unfettered access to victims.
Its CEO, Danie van Loggerenberg told Weekend Argus: “We as an organisation are deeply worried and concerned about the state of affairs of the well-being of the children within our country. Such as the horrific number of teenage pregnancies among the foundation phase and teenagers in and out of school settings.
“Covid has had a major role to play in the increase in pregnancies, abuse, neglect and trafficking of kids in our country.”
There is currently a court case were a former couple in Johannesburg is due for sentencing on charges of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm as well as child neglect.
IOL reported that The child, now aged three, was taken from the care of her parents in June 2020 after she was hospitalised for the second time at the age of four months, with multiple bone and rib fractures. The child is now living with a relative.
The age group most affected is said to be three to seven-year-old children with regard to physical abuse, while 10 to15-year-old children bear the brunt of sexual abuse, according to the centre.
“In 2021, there were 688 births from nine-year-olds and 10-year-olds, none of those births can be categorised as anything else other than rape, as a child of that age cannot consent to sexual activities.The other age groups do not look any better,” said Loggerenberg.
He added while gender-based violence was a pandemic on its own pre-Covid, once lockdown started the vulnerable were locked up with their abusers and unfortunately where children were not seen as punching bags before, they became exactly that.
“Due to there being no on-site schooling, religious activities or outside activities taking place, these kids were left to suffer in silence. Once there are no consequences to an abuser’s actions these actions become worse. The lockdown created the perfect cover up for these horrific child abuse cases.
“A trauma bond normally develops between the parent who is not abusing the child and the abuser and therefore categorising them as an abuser themselves as they become complicit and do not speak out,” said Loggerenberg.
He explained that the trauma bond then further leads to Stockholm Syndrome, this is when a coping mechanism is developed to cope and deal with an abusive situation. An individual develops positive feelings towards their abuser in order to cope and deal with the abuse they are being put through.
“This makes it difficult to not only report abuse but to speak up and have the needed courage when the opportunity arises to open up about the abuse. One of the reasons this kind of abuse happened is that parents and care givers were not used to having children with them for such long periods of time and were unfamiliar with how to handle the children for these lengthy periods.
“As poverty struck due to retrenchments and shortened working days/shifts this caused stress on the households and further contributed to the increase in abuse. We believe that more than half the children in our country experienced forms of abuse that was directly caused by the lockdowns,” he said.
Loggerenberg believes the continuous masking of children within the school set-up directly contributed to slower development, a lack of emotional development and exposure.
“Children were left feeling as if they had been silenced to the abuse they were being exposed to, it seemed as if they had been muzzled. Many children had stopped attending school due to the various lockdown regulations. This in most instances attributed to the vicious cycle of abuse being allowed to continue,” said Loggerenberg.
Spokesperson for the Department of Social Development Joshua Chigome said child protection was one of the Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD)’s most important mandates, guided by the Children’s Act to ensure all children’s rights are protected, upheld, and their dignity maintained at all times.
“Child protection remains a complex service area which requires a multi-layered approach as it often intersects with substance abuse, gender-based violence, health, and the legal system.
“Furthermore, we recognise that protecting and honouring the rights of our children is everyone’s responsibility. However, it is a task that government cannot do alone. We need the support of every parent, guardian and community member to play a role in protecting the rights of our children all year round,” said Chigome.
The Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) for the Western Cape showed that 207 cases of physical violence were reported between April 1, 2021 and March 2022. Child neglect, 33, emotional abuse, 60.
The GBVCC recorded nationally 64 967 calls, 3012 USSD messages and 2 157 smses during the same period.
National director of SOS Children’s Villages in South Africa, Patrick Kulati told the Weekend Argus the neglect of children in our society impacts negatively on their healthy and holistic development.
“It diminishes their chances of social and economic well-being and threatens their human right to care and protection. In 2016, SOS produced a report called In the Spot, where it said early experiences and the environments in which children develop during their earliest years can have a lasting impact on their lives, and the more risks they are subjected to, the higher is the impact on child development.
“Neglect is among the worst experiences that any child can go through. The government must urgently address the underlying causes of this problem, namely abject poverty, inequality, economic dis-empowerment, unemployment and the high costs of living,” he said.
Heartlands Baby Sanctuary sustainability marketing and events manager, Nikki Bower said they had experiencing an increase in applications for admissions due to cases of neglect, and called for more assistance from government.