Failed by parents‚ failed by the state: Summit on violence against children squares up to massive challenge

24 May 2017 - 13:47 By Dave Chambers
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The torrent of violence against children is fuelled by a cocktail of poverty‚ substance abuse‚ easy access to weapons and exposure to crime.

To that‚ experts were told at a two-day meeting in Cape Town hosted by the Mandela Initiative‚ South Africa can add the failure of the child protection system.

Victims of abuse are receiving fragmented services that are potentially more damaging to their long-term physical and psychological wellbeing‚ according to Lucy Jamieson of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town‚ one of the summit hosts.

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Matodzi Amisi‚ director in the Department of Planning‚ Monitoring and Evaluation‚ said even though 11 government departments had responsibilities to address violence against children‚ an “implementation gap” meant the issue was not prioritised‚ child protection was inadequately funded and there was a shortage of skilled staff.

Lucy Jamieson of the Children’s Institute‚ which looked at how reported cases of abuse in five provinces were processed in the child protection system‚ said: “We found that police and social services collaborated in only 8% of reported abuse cases.

“The lack of inter-sectoral collaboration and lack of human resources are preventing children from accessing therapeutic and support services‚ and allowing perpetrators to continue to abuse children without any form of criminal investigation.”

The summit was presented with a depressing litany of statistics and research findings about the scale of the problem‚ including:

- Most children experience and/or witness multiple forms of violence in the home‚ family‚ community and school‚ usually at the hands of someone they know;

- Under-fives are most likely to be abused and killed in the home‚ while teenage boys are at increased risk of being killed during interpersonal violence;

- One in three children are victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they are 18‚ while 12% of children report neglect and 16% report emotional abuse; - In 2013/2014‚ 29% of sexual offences reported to the police involved children — around 51 cases a day; and

- A child is raped and murdered every three days.

Delegates to the summit were told the effects of abuse extended to children’s intellectual‚ social‚ psychological‚ and emotional development.

Experienced in early life‚ abuse could also affect brain development and reduce academic performance‚ and was linked to aggressive behaviour in later life‚ especially among boys.

Cathy Ward of UCT‚ Celia Hsiao of Save the Children South Africa and a team of international researchers told the summit they had calculated the cost of abuse to society.

Said Ward: “The cost of disability-adjusted life years lost to violence against children and reduced earnings was estimated at R238-billion in 2015/16.

“If we prevent violence against children‚ on the other hand‚ we save costs by reducing the rates of other national problems‚ such as HIV infection and substance misuse.”

A UCT study of the root causes of violence‚ reported at the summit‚ found that factors include poverty‚ poor living conditions‚ mental health and substance abuse.

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Said Shanaaz Mathews of the Children’s Institute: “Care arrangements‚ family structure and conflict in the home are key determinants; whereas children living in households where neither parent is present are at increased risk for violence.”

A complex web of social and personal factors contributed to a never-ending intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse‚ said Mathews. Adults’ ability to provide care and support was influenced by their own experiences of trauma‚ including abuse in childhood and intimate partner violence.

Mathews said support for parents could break the intergenerational cycle and increase protection for children.

Amisi said an “integrated improvement plan” had been finalised to address issues raised in government’s diagnostic review of the child protection system‚ spearheaded by the Department of Social Development.

Department deputy director-general Conny Nxumalo‚ said innovative ways of preventing violence were being tested. “Parenting programmes and community-based services such as Isibindi are showing promise‚” she said.

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Isibindi is a community-based programme developed by the National Association of Child Care Workers. It aims to enable poor communities to provide care and protection services for children.

Unicef South Africa‚ which provides technical assistance and support to the government and civil society‚ was also looking for ways to improve matters‚ said the agency’s child protection specialist‚ Sinah Moruane.

“Social Development and Unicef are working on strengthening the existing ... programme of linking care services to social grant recipients‚” she said.

The 2013-18 national plan of action developed by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Violence against Women and Children is being reviewed‚ the summit was told.

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“This week’s action dialogue afforded civil society and academics an opportunity to engage with the plan and recommend actions to strengthen it‚ based on the most recent evidence‚” said a statement after the summit.

“The revised plan of action will be widely consulted with civil society and interested parties to ensure buy-in and inclusiveness in the protection of children.”

Nxumalo hailed the outcome of the summit. “What was recommended aligns closely with the National Development Plan‚ making preventing violence against children a win-win all round‚” she said.

The Mandela Initiative‚ led by universities in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation‚ hosted the summit with the Children’s Institute and the Safety and Violence Initiative at the University of Cape Town‚ the Department of Social Development and Unicef South Africa.

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