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This nation must protect its children

Sunday Times Editorial | 2011-10-16 02:16:45.0
President Jacob Zuma responds to some of the burning and light-hearted issues raised by a group of pupils from across the country who visited him at the presidential guesthouse yesterday to present him with a copy of the book 'Children's Letters to President Zuma'

Sunday Times Editorial: This week, Shireen de Waal faced the worst news a mother can receive. Her teenage daughter, Louise, had been kidnapped, raped, murdered and burnt beyond recognition. Last week, Caroline Nkone was confronted with the news that the mutilated remains of her three-year-old son, Athenkosi, had been found in a suitcase in a neighbour's shack.

The grief of the two mothers is shared by too many parents throughout South Africa who have lost their children in brutal and devastating ways.

Children in our society frequently have to bear the brunt of violence. Newspapers are filled with reports of women who murder their offspring, fathers who rape their daughters, strangers who rape children, hired killers who murder infants for body parts, serial rapists and killers who target teenagers, traffickers who sell children to pimps and for labour, fathers who murder their families. Many more children are forced to witness violence, or are physically abused or neglected.

This is a terrifying world in which to raise children.

Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada said the worst deprivation while imprisoned on Robben Island was the absence of children. The poignant statement captures the fact that children inspire hope, care and love.

When children are present we act less selfishly and care more about the world's future, yet so many of them are treated with hatred.

How can we protect our children from harm?

One solution is good policing and detective services. The section head of the South African Police Service's investigation psychology unit said there were "hundreds of serial rapists running around the country" who could be caught within weeks if coordinated police task teams were established. Catching serial rapists who target children and teenagers should be an urgent priority.

But policing is only part of the solution. We should also look beyond our families and recognise that there are millions of vulnerable children in South Africa - children who are orphaned, who do not get the love and guidance they need to grow into well-adjusted adults, who do not have enough food. We need to recognise these children as our responsibility, too: intervene where we can, or support attempts to improve their lives. Without choices and prospects these children are vulnerable to abuse.

Children are easy targets for adults who feel powerless and abused, but abusing children will not make their pain go away. We need psychological and social interventions to help adults deal with their traumas so that they do not take their pain out on children who cannot fend for themselves.

The scale of the abuse and murder of children in South Africa should be treated as a national emergency.

And we all need to be part of the solution.

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