Child Protection Week - The Abuse Continues
Shahida Omar questions why more isn't being done to help children.
As the country marks Child Protection Week, there are still far too many issues of abuse, plaguing South Africa’s children. Not only are they abused by sexual predators, but also by the justice system.
The Children's Act of 2005 created a national Child Protection Register which recorded the names of those who abused and neglected children. This, however, did not stop legislators from a creating a second register through the 2007 Sexual Offenses Act. It has proven to be a waste of time and resources, more specifically when legislators fail to provide comprehensive services to victims of sexual offenses, on the basis that it would be a very costly exercise.
A further challenge in child protection lies with the Sexual Offenses Act of 2007, which focuses on consensual sexual behavior between children aged between 12 and 15. It states that children under the age of 16 can be prosecuted for kissing each other. Why pathologise normal developmental processes and place most children through the brutal legislative procedures? This will only induce further trauma and enter children into the criminal justice system, when in reality we should explore other options.
The country’s most vulnerable people are the children; more importantly children with disabilities. Government’s failure to provide penalties for the 29 sexual offenses, including sexual assault and rape, means that the alleged perpetrators cannot be charged. This is a travesty of justice, as the law provides no protection against the violation that these children have suffered.
Logistics are also a major stumbling block in the fight against child abuse.
Special Courtrooms are not fully equipped with functional cameras, resulting in cases being postponed indefinitely. Cases are often postponed and referred back to the police for further investigations. Dockets are also lost, resulting in secondary victimization of the children.
A serious lack of transport results in fewer children being able to access therapy and attend court cases. Parents are left with the dilemma – do they feed their children or use what little money they have to get their children to counseling? Police officers cannot help in this regard, as they too are faced with serious shortages of vehicles.
Some courts don’t have separate waiting rooms for the children, before their court cases begin, often resulting in the children coming face to face with their alleged perpetrators. This in turn affects the child’s testimony.
Children with intellectual and physical disabilities are usually glossed-over, as people don't know how to intervene and communicate with them. These children are not often in a position to be able to make a clear and coherent statement to the police. As a result criminal cases are not opened, resulting in perpetrators slipping through the cracks of the justice system.
Police officers, prosecutors and magistrates are not trained to be able to interview, communicate and aptly handle children with intellectual and physical disabilities. The children are, as a result, exposed to brutal interviewing and testimony procedures.
Former president Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” What does this say about South Africa?
Shaheda Omar works at The Teddy Bear Clinic for abused children.