June 2-9 has been declared the National Child Protection Week. Started in 1997, the campaign aims to mobilise all sectors of society to ensure that children and cared for and protected. This year it is being observed under the theme: “Let us Protect All Children to Move South Africa Forward”. The observance comes at a very critical time for the country as the situation remains desperate for many children. Recent studies have found that 99 percent of children have experienced or witnessed some form of violence, and more than 40 percent had multiple experiences of violence in their homes, schools and communities. The Weekly’s Martin Makoni asked the Institute of Security Studies researcher for the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme Diketso Mufamadi what could have gone wrong with society and what needs to be done to fix it. Makoni also asked Mufamadi if the laws of the country are providing sufficient justice to those affected and keeping offenders at bay. Excerpts:
The South African constitution is said to have a high regard for children’s rights as well as equality and dignity of everyone, but every day the country is faced with disturbing cases of child abuse, neglect and a host of other vices, what could be the reason behind this?
South Africa’s history has always been characterised by high levels of violence. Over the past 25 years since the birth of democracy the levels of violence started to decrease. However, since 2012 this trend changed and there has been a steady increase in violent crimes such as murder and robbery. The key reason is the negative impact that state capture had on the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and the overall capability of the state to improve the lives of people in South Africa.
A recent government review of the effectiveness of programmes and institutions to address violence against women and children has revealed systemic failings and a lack of political will to stop the growing tide of violence, what could be reason for the inaction and what would the Children’s Institute want to see being done by the country’s authorities and leaders to address the situation?
South Africa has made large efforts and investments in addressing the issue of violence in the country. Since the transition into democracy, the state’s perspective has always been to use punitive methods in response to crime and violence. This can be seen in the large yearly budgets that have been allocated to the criminal justice system (CJS) in addressing crime. With such concerted effort on reducing crime, it has been concerning that the violence levels have only increased. It is, therefore, important that we start thinking of new and different ways of addressing the issue of violence before it occurs. Doing this will require an investment in social programmes which are aimed at reducing the risk factors of violence in communities and homes before they impact on the lives of children – who go on to perpetuate these cycles of violence well into their adulthoods. This is why the Children’s Institute has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to make preventing violence against children a top priority. If this is done, and evidenced-based violence prevention interventions are funded and rolled out, we will see substantial reduction in violent crime and overall improvements in public safety in the next five years. This will have benefits for the economy and job creation as the potential of our population that is stifled by violence will be free to develop our country.
How much do you think the rights of children are understood in the country and is the information reaching the people who should be receiving it?
Unfortunately, many people generally don’t understand how important it is to protect the rights of children. However, with regular national events like Child Protection Week, hopefully the rights of children will be better recognised. The lobbying around the banning of corporal punishment both in schools and homes, is further indication of the growing recognition of the importance of children’s rights. The research is clear, all forms of physical violence against children is harmful. Children who do not experience violence generally achieve better in life.
The ISS, in a recent joint statement with the Children’s Institute is on record saying violence against women and children carry a high social and economic cost for families just like poverty and inequality, could you explain this further?
Violence against children is associated with short and long-term effects on children’s health and development which carries out well into their adulthood. Children who have been abused or neglected or have witnessed violence go on to repeat these cycles – either as victims or perpetrators themselves. The result, ultimately is that these children are unable to reach their full potential and contribute effectively to the country. Research tells us that children who experience, or are exposed to, violence (emotional or physical) earn less as adults compared to those who did not experience violence. A study conducted by Save the Children South Africa in 2016 estimated the long-term cost of violence against children to be R238 billion – nearly five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. South Africa is experiencing a huge loss in human capital due to experiences of violence in childhood.
Several studies have indicated that violence against women and children is quite serious in the country, as the problem has become a daily occurrence, what could be the reason for the worsening crisis and what should be done to address it?
Like I said earlier, the country’s violent past plays a huge role in that. Several generations have been affected by that. In order for us to see lower violence levels in South Africa, there must be a radical shift in how state resources are spent. Over and above this, more investment is needed in preventative social programmes that have been proven to work in reducing violence.
This week, there was another report of learners attacking each other at a school in Gauteng, resulting in one of them being stabbed to death, what could be perpetuating this form of violence in schools?
It is important that the violence we are seeing in schools is understood as a reflection of the overall violent contexts in which our children are brought up 10 violent countries in the world. As such, it is no surprise that our children are mirroring this violence – seen in their homes, schools and communities. Children experience violence in the homes at the hands of their caregivers. As many as 66 percent are beaten by their caregivers. Almost half see their mothers beaten by an intimate partner. This violence is triggered by people who themselves are stressed, often because of unemployment, poverty, and substance abuse. Children experience violence in their schools in the form of bullying and corporal punishment. Also in their communities in the forms of gang violence, drug dealing, stabbings and shootings. All these experiences of violence together result in some children using violence and as a first means to expressing themselves, solve conflicts or react to problems they are facing. The country needs to invest in programmes and interventions that teach children the skill of being self-aware and the ability to regulate their emotions in a positive way.
Could it be also that a lot of focus was put in fighting violence against women and children and not paying much attention to the violence among the children themselves?
Violence against women and children are completely linked. They occur in the same households and share the same drivers. Shared risk factors of this violence include family conflict; poverty, alcohol and substance abuse; patriarchy within the family and in society at large; and social norms that tolerate violence towards women and children. Addressing violence against women results in reducing violence against and committed by children.
Some people have blamed the growing cases of violence by children against other children on the fact that corporal punishment is banned in local schools and at home, how do you view that suggestion?
You will find that the children committing violent acts have experienced violence themselves. That many schools still practice corporal punishment is most likely the reason for the continued violence in those schools. If corporal punishment stopped being practiced and was replaced by other forms of progressive discipline, there would most likely be far fewer cases of pupil violence and bullying in our schools.
This year the campaign will be observed under the theme: “Let us Protect All Children to Move South Africa Forward”. How relevant is this theme given the challenges faced in this country relating to children?
Research states that the way in which we treat our children today is how our society will be in 10-20 years’ time. The sooner we stop all forms of violence against our children, the sooner we will see crime and violence decrease in our country.
Several repeat offenders have appeared before the courts in the country charged with various crimes against children, yet there are laws stating that such offenders should be listed in a special register so that they may not work with children again, why is this important law not being adhered to?
There is an urgent need to overhaul and reform our policing and prosecuting agencies to ensure that the laws are adhered to. The sooner these institutions are depoliticised and headed only by highly skilled and experienced women and men of unquestionable integrity, the sooner the law will be taken seriously.