Cape Town – Home Affairs Minister Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize says government will focus its efforts on strengthening family programmes to ensure that children, the most vulnerable group in society, are protected.
The Minister said this ahead of launching Child Protection Week at the Langa High School sports ground in the Western Cape on Sunday.
“During Child Protection week, we all have to make new commitments and see how we can improve the wellbeing [of children] and strengthen children’s resilience by also looking at family programmes … which are important for child protection because [when] families are [not strengthened], that becomes a [breeding] ground for child neglect and all forms of violence that they get exposed to, including the most heinous crime of child murder,” she said.
The launch of Child Protection Week, under the theme ‘Let us all Protect Children to Move South Africa Forward’ comes at a time when violence against children is under the spotlight.
Child Protection Week seeks to raise awareness and educate society about the rights and responsibilities of children.
Recent cases that have gripped the nation’s attention include the horrific murder of three-year-old Courtney Pieters from Elsies River, who was raped twice before being murdered and buried in a shallow grave in Bofors Circle in Epping, Industria, after she went missing on May 4.
Minister Mkhize said this year’s event is unprecedented, as it comes at a time that the nation has witnessed the most horrific acts of violence against children.
According to statistics provided by the Department of Social Development, children under the age of five are most likely to be abused and killed in the home, while teenage boys are at increased risk of being killed in the context of male-on-male interpersonal violence.
One in three children are victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they reach the age of 18, while 12% of children report neglect and 16% report emotional abuse.
In 2013/14, 29% (18 524) of sexual offences reported to the police were children under the age of 18 years – equating to 51 cases a day.
Connie Nxumalo, the Deputy Director General responsible for Welfare Services at the Department of Social Development, said the message that government will be driving this week is that “child protection is everybody’s business”.
She said they were focusing on supporting family programmes was because children are violated by people they know.
“Communities need to rally around their own families to make sure that they are strong enough to protect their members, including their children.
“We also have the Constitution, which stresses the rights of children. The Children’s Act is trying to make these rights a reality by outlining what problematic areas need to be [addressed] to make sure that government, civil society, communities and all stakeholders rally together to ensure that children are protected in our community,” she said.
Keeping track of the country’s children
Minister Mkhize said, meanwhile, that during Child Protection Week, government will conduct the late registrations of children who were not registered within 30 days after birth.
“As Home Affairs, we make a contribution in terms of children’s rights to citizenship to make sure that between zero and 30 days [from birth], all children are registered, they have birth certificates and they have an identity.
“Those who missed out are given an opportunity to register. This week, we will be looking at late registrations. We will be issuing birth certificates and of course, the big thing that we are looking at is the vulnerability of children who have been abducted and brought through our borders illegally and are kept as sex slaves, are neglected and are not documented. So those are the things are we are focusing on during this week,” she said.
The Minister said she was part of an Inter-Ministerial Committee that assists the Department of Social Development in implementing their programmes.
“During the transitional phase, before President Nelson Mandela became President, we focused on child protection. We were assisted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to start talking about the rights of children and the importance of democracy in putting children first.
“We have come a long way and this is a time to reflect…” she said.
Meanwhile, South Africans are encouraged to report child abuse to the 24-hour Gender Based Violence Command Centre on 0800 428 428 or *120*7867# or Childline 0800 055 555.