Child protection is up to everyone

2013-02-15 00:00

LIKE many others, we are horrified at the rape and murder of Western Cape teenager Anene Booysen, but unfortunately she is not the first or the last such victim. The PMB Child and Family Welfare Society deals with child rape victims every week, and in the first three months of last year, dealt with 53 cases of confirmed child sexual abuse. No one is listening — not the government and not society.

Everyone pays lip service and says “something must be done”, but no one is standing up to help. Those who are trying to do something are hampered in their efforts through a lack of funding and/or resources. Unless the root causes are addressed, the abuse of women and children will continue in our communities.

Many people are calling for stricter laws, but the problem is not in the actual laws but in the implementation thereof. There is a lack of systems and processes and, more significantly, there are limited prevention and early intervention programmes. Organisations such as PMB Child Welfare are struggling to keep child-protection programmes running due to the lack of funding. Sure, the government will tell you that it advocates the need for more prevention and early intervention services, and the amendments to the new Children’s Act 38/2005 reflect this focus, but it is all lip service — 75% of such services are run by non-profit organisations on the state’s behalf.

Does the state pay for these services? No. At the very best, it subsidises them. Yet the very same Children’s Act states in Chapter 7 that the MEC for Social Development must, from money appropriated by the relevant provincial legislature, provide and fund designated child-protection services for that province.

They must fund, not subsidise, but fund the services. What part of that does the government not understand?

Yes, as director of the local Child Welfare, I am angry about this, as we struggle to keep programmes alive, programmes we believe to be essential services. During the past year, we have already down-sized some projects. Our Child Advocacy Centre, which spearheads our child-protection work and is well-utilised by government workers as a resource, like many other of our projects, is under threat of imminent closure through lack of funding, despite efforts by the society to obtain same. The government, other than the police services with which we work closely and share the offices of their Child and Family Violence Unit, contribute no funding for this work.

This is a valuable resource for our community and we have been asked to replicate it in other areas, but we battle to keep the project alive in this region, never mind expand it. When it closes, and that looks to be an inevitable outcome unless funding is secured, things will get worse.

Who will be there to pick up the pieces of the cases we are dealing with, not only at a prevention and early intervention level, but also at a management and statutory placement level (when required)?

From the advocacy side though, at long last in November last year, Child Welfare SA, to which PMB Child Welfare Society is affiliated, in partnership with the Child Law Clinic, made a decision to take the government to court this year on exactly this issue — a call that affiliates have been making for more than 10 years.

The public needs to know that provincial government subsidises only child-protection services, pays two months in arrears and deducts money from NPOs if they have vacant posts, despite the work being done.

Yes, the government has a responsibility, but where is civil society in all of this?

Sometimes we feel that we are lone voices and that we are constantly beating our heads against a brick wall. People say that they hear what we are saying and there is an outcry when cases such as Booysen’s hit the media, but tomorrow, next week, next month, when the memory fades for the majority of South Africans, it is back to business and life as usual and Booysen, like many others before her, becomes another statistic.

Are the government and civil society really listening? Because listening requires a conscious effort. To hear the plight and do nothing is an even greater injustice to all our victims, past, current and future. Child protection is everyone’s business —  what are you doing about it?

• Julie Todd is director of

PMB Child and Family

Welfare ­Society.

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