Case delays due to Soweto court water crisis causing more trauma, says child victim support group

14 June 2021 - 15:22 By shonisani tshikalange
Shaheda Omar of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children says the wellbeing of children and their families has been affected by the water crisis at the Protea magistrate’s court. Stock photo.
Shaheda Omar of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children says the wellbeing of children and their families has been affected by the water crisis at the Protea magistrate’s court. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Achisatha Khamsuwan

Case delays and postponed counselling sessions due to the water crisis at the Protea magistrate’s court in Soweto is causing secondary trauma for families and child victims, says Dr Shaheda Omar, clinical director of the Teddy Bear Clinic.

The water supply has been intermittent for six months, she said, and case workers have had an ongoing challenge where child victims and their families feel let down due to repeated cancellations of appointments and postponements.

“The wellbeing of the children and their families has been affected as a result of it. It’s also the failure to provide therapy timeously to the children. This subjects them to further trauma because of their anxieties, their fears and whatever emotions they are struggling to cope with, with not being addressed timeously and appropriately,” said Omar.

The justice department said on Monday that the Soweto court had been shut down until further notice, as a result of problems with the water supply due to damaged and ageing piping infrastructure.

“Today our staff were not allowed on the premises because they are busy, I think, trying to establish the problem and address it,” said Omar. “But the implication of that is that children booked today for any psychosocial support had to be turned away.”

In its statement, the department said all matters that were scheduled at the court would be postponed, while members of the public who were supposed to appear before the court were advised to visit the facility to secure new court appearance dates.

Omar said the bana pele (children first) and batho pele (people first) concepts needed to be applied and alternative arrangements made.

“We cannot wait and say 'until further notice'. There needs to be contingency plans. There needs to be backup plans to ensure that people are served and that justice is served, because justice delayed is justice denied. People out there children, clients — continue to suffer because it's prolonged,” she said.

“We already had a pre-existing backlog and with Covid-19, it increased the backlog. Now with this kind of challenge within the court structures, it only makes it worse. It compounds the whole thing because the immediate needs of children and the victims are not being addressed.”

While not deliberate, “the situation has created so much more stress”, which secondarily victimises the victims, she said.

The justice department said it was working around the clock with the department of public works “to ensure speedy restoration of services”.

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