Experts concerned after primary school suicides

17 September 2017 - 11:36 By Naledi Shange
File photo of an empty swing. Two chidlren, one ages six, the other nine, have committed suicide.
File photo of an empty swing. Two chidlren, one ages six, the other nine, have committed suicide.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

At least two primary school children‚ aged six and nine‚ have been found dead in what appears to be acts of suicide in Limpopo and Mpumalanga in recent weeks.

As police investigations into their deaths continue‚ child experts say suicide among six-year-olds is extraordinary.

“It is really unusual. The cases of suicide we usually come across are from teenagers. One has to raise the fact that it is alarming. One has to ask what was going on in the little one’s life to go through with something like this‚” said National Executive for Childline SA Dumisile Nala.

Child protection consultant Joan van Niekerk agrees.

“At that age‚ they cannot think abstractly. It is possible however that they can carry out dares or copy something that they have seen elsewhere but they are unaware of the consequences of the risks that they may be taking‚” said Van Niekerk.

According to police‚ on September 9‚ little Mohau Mamaregane‚ a grade one pupil at Dorothy Langa primary school in in Seshego outside Polokwane in Limpopo had asked to go to the toilet and when he did not return‚ his teacher sent his classmate to go searching for him. He made the grim find.

In another incident‚ nine-year-old Lebo Maseko‚ a pupil at the Khalamlambo Primary School in Nkomazi District outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga‚ was found hanging from a school swing on September 1.

He was found by other school children with a tunic belt around his neck.

Van Niekerk said at that age a child had better understanding of life and death.

“A nine-year-old would have greater understanding and [thoughts of suicide] may be brought about being in trouble which they feel they cannot get out of. It bothers me that we have a situation where children do not know where they can go for help‚” she said.

Was there any significance to a place where a child may try to commit suicide?

“Definitely‚” said Van Niekerk.

“A child doing it at school is a more public suicide than the one at home and you may find that they have a fantasy they will be rescued in time and someone will then be aware that they have something troubling them‚” said Van Niekerk.

Childline said between April and June‚ it had received 20 calls from youngsters who were contemplating suicide. At least nine of them had already attempted suicide before.

Nala said parents can assist their children by communicating more openly with them. “The times we are living in are very stressful for children too but talking to your child is helpful. You will know when they are not okay. You will know when they are not their usual self and perhaps start finding a way of making your child open up to another elder person; a teacher‚ an uncle or aunt‚” she said.