Have we failed our children?

2014-06-20 00:00

OVER the past few weeks, media headlines have screamed “Mom held for allegedly hacking twin to death”, “Bishops in sex-abuse cover up”, “Boy allegedly abused girls at school”, “My husband never raped that girl — wife”, “Couple held for abusing baby, seven weeks old”, and last but not least, “House of horror”.

Besides these sensational stories that make media headlines, we have the daily struggle of thousands of parents to meet the basic material, emotional and social needs of their children.

Our children and young people are the prized possessions of the nation. Without them there can be no future, yet their needs are immense and urgent. It is of crucial importance that the proper policies and services are established and set in place to protect, care for and provide appropriate support to children, parents and caregivers

But, can we not ask: has South Africa failed its children?

The National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro) is of the view that attention should be focused on the challenges and struggles affecting thousands of families and communities who have to undergo a daily battle to make ends meet, find food for hungry mouths and find work.

The stress on parents and families, as they fail society’s expectation of meeting their families’ needs, impacts directly on the level of social pathology and risk factors that will form in families, communities and society.

Many children are growing up in child–headed households, a phenomenon that was not prevalent a few decades ago. Young teenage girls are having babies. Children are not emotionally, physically, socially or financially equipped to take on the responsibility of becoming parents and caring for a family.

The lack of protection for our children should be declared a state of emergency by the government. As a civilised society, we are all accountable for and have an obligation to provide comprehensive sources of care and support for such families and children.

While South Africa has globally recognised excellent legislation to ensure that the rights of our children are protected and entrenched, we have nevertheless abdicated our responsibilities of providing children and their parents and custodians with appropriate care, support and safety.

In analysing private-sector funding, there appears to have been a steady increase in corporate funding for educational programmes, and it is always pleasing to note that corporates are eager to support and uplift the communities that they operate within.

But we have forgotten that world-class education programmes and facilities are not sufficient if our children are not safe. How can I learn if I fear my journey to school, or if I fear getting abused at school, or in my household? How can I learn if my little sister is pregnant and I fear that I could be next?

How can I learn and prosper when all around me is broken?

Growing evidence suggests that juvenile crime is on the increase and that perpetrators are becoming younger. It would also appear that the offences committed by our youth are becoming increasingly violent.

The SA Institute of Race Relations report released on April 4, 2011, revealed that a third of young people are of the opinion that it is acceptable to attack somebody physically who has assaulted them. It has also been found that violence within families and communities is a major contributing factor to juvenile crime. More than 37% of the national corporate social-investment budget is spent on education and educational programmes in school, but less than two percent is spent on crime and crime-prevention programmes.

We need to collaborate and focus more pointedly on preventing juvenile crime, and ensuring that it does not continue to escalate and contribute towards the unravelling of the social fabric of society. But most of all, as a community, we need to unite and work together to rise above crime.

We can no longer ignore the fact that more than a third of South Africa’s prison population is younger than 25. If we are intent on safeguarding our children, our communities and the future of our country, it is imperative that the state, civil society and South Africans in general begin to collaborate more effectively, and unite for a safer South Africa, while protecting and supporting our children.

• Jacques Sibomana is spokesperson for the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders.

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