THE BIG READ: Our nation's soul is under vicious attack
It's time we all said 'no' to abuse of our children. 'No form of violence can ever be excused in a society that wishes to call itself decent, but violence against children must surely rank as the most abominable expression of violence." Nelson Mandela, November 2003.
As we pause to reflect on the state of our nation with regard to youth and children, these words seem worryingly idealistic. When one reads the stories and digests the statistics, one begins to wonder whether the abuse of children is not seen by many as being okay; that it is a right rather than an act of abhorrent criminality.
One senses that something has gone dreadfully wrong in our society - like we are watching one of those ghastly science fiction movies in which creatures with rogue genes begin to turn on each other. Violence against children has not only been normalised, but for many it seems to have become a way of life.
That way of life is as big a threat to the future of our land as anything else. What is a good education when children sit in class unable to concentrate because of the beatings they received the night before? What is matric worth to girls who have had numerous abortions by the age of 13 or 14 - most brought about because their fathers or other family members have repeatedly impregnated them? What is the likelihood of scores of small children growing up to become functional members of society when childhood treats like sweets are conditional on sexual favours dished out to fathers, brothers, uncles and friends?
It is hard to look at this stuff; we instinctively shy away from it. Even well-intentioned initiatives like the recent Child Protection Week go largely unnoticed. I don't think it's that we don't care - it's just that we don't know where to begin to help.
But begin we must. Being willing to weep and not just turn the page of the newspaper in horror is a good place to start. Perhaps if we are able to do that - not just look, but see; not just hear but listen, we will be stirred to act; stirred to do something - anything - to stop the atrocities going on behind thousands of closed doors every night in every city, town and tiny village across our nation.
Having wept, we need to stand up and take responsibility for the abuse of our children. It is time we said, "This is my problem", and did something in our personal capacity to change the situation. It doesn't matter whether or not we are "kid people". We don't need to be "called" to work with children. Mothers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, shop assistants, teachers, doctors, lawyers, street sweepers and vendors - all of us should do something to help our most vulnerable children. If we can't or do not wish to be hands-on, then we must help those who are. There are dozens of excellent NGOs in the child space. Childline is in desperate need of assistance and funding and IS a very good place to start (visit www.childlinesa.org.za).
To defeat an enemy we need to understand it clearly. This is why we need to work to rectify the misconceptions around child abuse and related issues such as child and teenage pregnancy. Too often we allow our morality or religious beliefs to cloud our judg ment. For example, we tend to assign blame for child and teenage pregnancy to the youngster.
We say things like, "If they are going to do it, why don't they use contraceptives?", or "Can't they abstain until they are married?" These statements are loaded with assumptions that don't take into account the reality of hundreds of thousands of children's lives.
The bottom line is that a child should not have to take contraceptives in preparation to be raped and most child pregnancies in South Africa are as a result of rape.
"But what about those that aren't?", you ask. The reality is that many of our children are being brought up with a very distorted view of sexuality. They have often been victims of abuse, witnessed abuse or have at the least heard of it happening. Often sex is currency and so even if it is consensual, it is still abusive by its very nature. I wonder how many pregnant girls in our country fell pregnant in the "old-fashioned way" - two starry-eyed lovers unable to restrain themselves who then had to break the news to their parents, who organised a hasty marriage?
It is time to call this thing what it is. It isn't an epidemic or a pandemic - it has moved way beyond a disease. It is in fact the systematic destruction of the heart of our nation. Ultimately abuse targets not the body, but the soul. Our nation's soul is being attacked.
Can we continue to share this magnificent land with so many destroyed young lives? Can we continue to walk the same paths as the raped, the sodomised and the beaten? Can we look at those faces that implore us to act, and then look away?
We can - at our peril.
- Foxton is founder of the national awareness campaign Stop Crime Say Hello; The Baby House in Umhlanga, Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal Adoption Coalition