Crime stunts our children's growth

12 August 2015 - 02:18 By NIVASHNI NAIR

SOUTH African parents are the strictest in the world when it comes to supervising their children's play and travel. SOUTH African parents are the strictest in the world when it comes to supervising their children's play and travel.So says the report on a study by the Policy Studies Institute at the University of Westminster, London. The study found that South African parents were more restrictive with regard to their children's movements than parents in the 16 other countries surveyed, which include Australia, Brazil, Denmark, the UK, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Sri Lanka and Sweden.The study found that Finnish children are the most free of parental supervision of their movements - at seven, most of them are allowed to walk or cycle alone to places near to their home; by eight they can travel home from school and go out after dark alone, by nine most can cycle on main roads alone, and by 10 most can travel on local buses alone.In the other countries, except South Africa, by age 11, at least a majority of children are allowed to cross main roads. But 80% of South African parents said they were afraid their children would be injured in a traffic accident if they crossed a road on their own.Commenting on the study, the president of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, Joan van Niekerk, said the issue of independence of movement for children was a "hot debate" in South Africa because many parents and other caregivers were worried about crime and the victimisation of their children."I believe this has many detrimental effects on children. Not only does it prevent the development of independence and the skills that accompany independent movement, it means children are inculcated with higher levels of anxiety and fear [because of crime], and might spend more time contained at home, and possibly more time indoors with 'electronic baby-sitters' - TV, games consoles and cellphone games."Deevia Bhana, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's School of Education, said the fear of crime, rape and other forms of sexual violence seemed to be a "dominant factor in restricting children's mobility, and girls' mobility in particular".A Pretoria mother, who did not want to be named, said her 10-year-old daughter was not allowed out alone in their suburb, Waterkloof Ridge."The main reason is crime. Public spaces are just too unpredictable. One doesn't know who might be encountered. The list of possible crimes against vulnerable children is endless."Then there is the problem of accidents. People drive very fast on suburban roads," she said.Jackie Branfield, founder of Operation Bobbi Bear, an organisation fighting for the rights of sexually abused children, said that allowing a South African child to go anywhere unsupervised was tantamount to the most severe neglect and endangerment."Not only are our rape statistics through the roof but the number of murders of children after a sexual assault is on the increase, as is child-on-child rape. Missing children are usually found harmed or killed within 5km of their home."But Patric Solomons, director of child protection organisation Molo Songololo, said the UK research "did not take into consideration the various class, economic, racial conditions and inequality that impact on children's lives, living spaces, and access to resources in different communities - affluent, middle class and working class".Solomons said that in South Africa many poor urban and rural children are forced from an early age to walk long distances to get water, fuel, basic services and schooling."By three to five, children are usually very familiar with their immediate home environment, and can identify their home, street and key landmarks. Some can walk to the pre-school, the shop, the clinic and the homes of family members and friends."Many children play in their street or fields near their home because of lack of space at home."The study acknowledged that it did not include townships or rural areas.

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