“Right now, while we are sitting here, a child could be getting hurt, or even killed. And if this happens again on our watch, we have failed our children.”
These were the words of Lorenzo Davids, CEO of the CBD-based Community Chest, at a Child Protection Forum meeting at St George’s Cathedral on Friday June 23.
It was attended by a number of NGOs and stakeholders in the social development and child protection sector to establish a plan of action to end child violence.
It was reported that 26 children were murdered in South Africa so far, and stakeholders have called on Premier Helen Zille to lodge a commission of inquiry into child murders in the Western Cape to formulate a sustainable plan to protect children.
And while it was said at the meeting that the premier’s office had rejected the commission of inquiry, it seemed that the provincial government, in fact, had plans to support the venture.
Ms Zille’s spokesman, Michael Mpofu, said supporting children and families was the largest single item in the social development department’s annual budget, and that, this year, the programmes for children and families had received R651.5 million.
“This figure encompasses funding and support to just under 420 NGOs working in the early childhood development, child and youth care centres and drop-in centres that render critical child protection services, and a range of therapeutic services rendered by social workers,” he said.
Additionally, the provincial government was also finalising a policy to guide the development of legislation for the appointment of a children’s commissioner. This policy would inform the function and role of the proposed commissioner and enable the process to move forward, said Mr Mpofu.
At the meeting, Warrant Officer Avron Petersen of SAPS’ Bellville Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences office, said the main factors which influenced child abuse were poverty, and traumatic encounters in a perpetrator’s life which had not been properly dealt with.
“We try to create awareness at schools, churches and homes in communities. We also patrol spots where crimes against children happen so that it is prevented.
“We sometimes go out to nightclubs to check if there are any under-aged children there.”
He said, however, it was very difficult to prevent crimes perpetrated inside the victim’s home. “Most times, the perpetrators are known to the children, or are even related,” he pointed out, encouraging people to report violent crimes to their local police station.
Lucinda Evans, the founder of Philisa Abafazi Bethu in Lavender Hill, said she started the organisation seven years ago because she was tired of seeing women and children being abused, and little or nothing being done by authorities to give them justice.
“Jeremiah Ruiters, who was murdered, allegedly by his mother’s boyfriend; Maximo and Octavia Deus Yela, murdered allegedly by their father in Hout Bay; a 48-year-old taxi driver, sentenced to only 15 years for raping an eight-year old child for years; Rene Roman, who went missing in our community – she was found murdered.
“Our children are not getting justice, and their parents are waiting for closure.
“Today we ask, ‘what does it mean when we say my child is your child?’ We should mobilise our communities and go back to the basics of my child is your child. We need to make people aware of what happens when they don’t protect their children,” she said.
Lillian Masesbenza, the director of Mhani Ginghi Social Entrepreneur Network, said stakeholders needed to get to the root of the problem when it came to child violence.
“Where do we disrupt this? Is it caused by broken families, or is it just because of communities tired of their circumstances? Is it a global problem? We need to stop treating the symptoms, because the problem won’t go away.
“This conversation needs to start now, and we need an agreed outcome for a way forward, and this is the correct platform for this talk.”
Andrew Lyon, the provincial community police forum (CPF) board chairman, said South Africa had become a country where we shifted the blame.
“Our children are the future, and at the rate that we are going, we will have no more kids left to see tomorrow.
“We as an authority are failing with strategies, and our politicians are failing us. But whatever decisions are made today, be assured that the provincial CPF will buy into it to ensure a better future for our children.”
Valdosti Van Reenen-Le Roux, director of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, said that for a brief moment, it seemed that child violence had come to a halt.
“It was a relief that Erin Fredericks (who went missing in Grassy Park) was found alive. This month, June 2017, reiterated how child violence plagues the Western Cape – two newborn babies were found dead in Delft; little Jeremiah Ruiters, raped and killed, and the latest victims of gang violence at schools.
“We cannot continue with the reactive mechanisms. We need to talk about prevention. The South African government is responsible for protecting our children, and we are saying, by establishing the commission of inquiry, you are not doing us a favour, it is your job.”
Mr Mpofu said that at the meeting last month with the various NGOs, a number of concerns had been raised, including a call for the commission of inquiry into child killings.
He said the NGOs had not presented a clear set of proposed guidelines which would inform the work of the proposed commission.
“In order for a commission to pass legal muster, certain legal requirements would have to be met. The one-page proposal from the NGO grouping lacked further required details,” he said.
“At the time, the NGOs conceded to this fact; The costs associated with the commission would be relatively exorbitant, and would take several months to establish, complete its work and present its findings.”
He said as an alternative, a proposal was put forward that a task team comprising stakeholders from the provincial government, the SAPS and NGO partners should be established to investigate at least six recent cases of child murders.
“The task team would be easier to establish, within a short period of time, and would be able to conduct its work swiftly. The outcome of the probe into a sample of cases would possibly reveal the common denominators in incidents of violence against children, forming a basis for SAPS, government and the NGOs to work with – in formulating solutions to address the crisis.
“Representatives from the NGOs agreed to consult with their partners on the current proposal and revert. We have not heard from them since. Instead, we have noted inaccurate reports in the media fuelled by the disingenuous comments from the NGOs.”
He said the office had co-operated in good faith, especially given the gravity of these incidents.
“It remains a sad fact that the police can do very little to prevent this kind of incident if the perpetrator is living in the same house as the child victim, with the permission of the child’s parents.
“We believe a holistic approach is required in dealing with this scourge. Families, civil society, government, SAPS and other bodies all have a role to play in the fight.”
Mr Davids said Community Chest planned to compile a report on the outcomes of the meeting that would be released at a later stage.