Offering mental health support to mothers can help prevent child deaths
Targeted interventions can limit the number of children being killed, as well as their fall into gangsterism.
So says Dr Chris Jones from the unit for moral leadership in the faculty of theology at Stellenbosch University.
Reviewing crime statistics, Jones said more children are being killed in the Western Cape than in any other province in SA. In 2017 and 2018 alone, 279 children were murdered in the province, according to police statistics.
“One of the reason why the Western Cape has such a high number of child killings is because existing research and proven interventions are not being used as they should to develop and implement policies and strategies for violence prevention and response that will help bring an end to child murders,” said Jones.
Jones was part of a research committee comprising academics from Stellenbosch University, and University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape, that looked at primary drivers of child murders in the province and gaps in existing government services.
The committee was formed after the Cape Town-based Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture approached the Western Cape government to look into the spate of child murders. The provincial government adopted the committee’s recommendations.
Looking at murders of children under one year of age and those aged between one and nine years old, and between 10 and 17 years old, Jones said in a recent article in the journal HTS Theological Studies that the committee found the majority of murders in the first category are committed by mothers through “baby-dumping” or inflicting fatal injuries.
“The most important contributing factors of murders in this age group have to do with maternal mental health, for example, postnatal depression; poor or lack of parenting skills, particularly among very young mothers; and lack of material and emotional support to new mothers from the father, family, community and the state.”
Jones said key contributing factors leading to child murders among one and nine year olds are dysfunctional families as well as a culture of violence that is fed by mental health disorders, drug and alcohol use, poor coping and relationship skills among families and cycles of abuse.
“Most of the same contributing factors apply to child murders among 10 and 17 year olds, but in addition the following become significant: the child’s own risk behaviour and mental health – for example, participation in gangs, crime, substance abuse and dropping out of school.”
Commenting on the committee’s recommendations, Jones said the most important one is the formulation of a provincial plan of action to address gaps, incorporating the recommended actions for each of the three main age categories.
“A plan with geographic data to identify hot spots and key agencies at local level must be augmented and internationally accepted measures to prevent violence against children can be explored to see what may be adaptable in SA.”
“... Policy-makers and other decision-makers should use their power to transform the unfortunate and unsafe circumstances in which many children find themselves,” said Jones.