Protecting the rights of SA’s children

IN South Africa, children experience many forms of violence and many experience multiple forms of violence.

Physical punishment is the most widespread form of violence against children globally, and while national prevalence data is lacking, available data suggests that it is highly prevalent in SA. This is according to a report released in May 2017 by the Children’s Institute that was published at the University of Cape Town.

In a study conducted in 2005, about 57% of parents admitted to having smacked their children and 30% reported having done so recently. According to the report, children were most likely to be smacked at ages three and four.

“A population-based survey using a large sample of young men and women in the Eastern Cape province found that 89% of young men reported physical punishment by their caregivers before the age of 18 years. In this study a large proportion of young people (85% of young men and 69% of young women) reported having been beaten as a child with a belt, stick or other hard object,” said the report.

National Children’s Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of November to highlight the progress being made towards the realisation and promotion of the rights of children.

“The prevalence of physical punishment in schools varies considerably between provinces. In the Western Cape about 22% of pupils experience physical punishment at school, while the proportion rises to 74% in KwaZulu-Natal,” the report said.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can play a role in reducing cases of child abuse in communities.

Umvoti Aids Centre General Manager Sithuthukile Mchunu said: “Many children remain economically and physically exploited and abused, leaving many marginalised and insecure. NGOs focus on children arose from the necessity to combat poverty, HIV/Aids, gender-based violence, and various other things that are undermining children’s rights to security, education and ultimately their childhood,” Mchunu said.

Mchunu added that NGOs provide various programmes in the area of children’s rights, this includes advocating for children’s rights, the provision of opportunities for children to express their views and concerns, contribution to societal transformation, and the development of support services and resources to respond to the survivors of child rights violations.

“All these programmes require the full participation of all stakeholders,” she said.

Extreme physical punishment in schools and families is regarded as another form of violence against children. However, attempts to combat this issue led to some intense debate among parents after the Constitutional Court ruled in September that spanking children at home is illegal.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said spanking of children was against sections 10 and 12 of the Constitution.

Speaking on spanking, Mchunu said: “Experts in the field recommend positive reinforcement, leading by example, time-outs, and taking away of privileges as a form of discipline to help change children’s behaviour.

“Our children are unique, precious and very different; therefore, guardians would exercise the necessary care and caution in finding what works best for their children.”

Research conducted by the Children’s Institute revealed that physical punishment may have detrimental effects on children later in life.

“The evidence suggests that physical punishment may have detrimental effects, particularly if experienced during early childhood, because early childhood experiences have a strong influence on the development of cognitive, behavioural and social skills and on brain development.

“A lot of research has associated physical punishment with children feeling alone, misunderstood and rejected which unfortunately progresses to aggression, depression, poor social skills, and ignites the regrettable vicious cycle of abuse. Considering the current high levels of violence and abuse against children; it is going to take a loving, patient, understanding, and committed village to raise a child to be a successful and upstanding member of our society.”

The research also revealed that children who had experienced direct and indirect violence and witnessed intimate partner violence are most likely to develop violent masculinities and abuse their partners in adulthood.

The Optimus Study on Child Abuse, Violence and Neglect in South Africa said: “Exposure to violence, particularly domestic violence, can also increase the risk of children entering into similar relationships as they mature into adulthood, both as victims and/or perpetrators of domestic violence.

“Exposure to violence has also been identified as significantly increasing the risk of the child coming into contact with the criminal justice system as he/she grows older.”

The director of the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute, Professor Shanaaz Mathews, said 520 young men were killed every year through gang violence driven by social norms that promote the use of violence. Mathews was delivering her keynote address at a media workshop held in Durban on October 11 when she said that national statistics revealed that sexual abuse on children was on the rise in SA.

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