By Minister Susan Shabangu
Communities must work to protect the vulnerable and recognise signs of abuse
Last month the battered and bruised body of three year old Poppie van der Merwe was found at her home in Brits in the North West. She was allegedly kicked to death by her stepfather. This tragedy could have ended differently if anyone who witnessed the telltale signs of abuse had reported it to the police. Every incident of abuse suffered by a child or woman reflects our failure as a society to respond to the cries of the most vulnerable living in our midst.
It is not enough to simply express our shock, condemnation and disbelief at these atrocious crimes against women and children. There is a desperate need to bring about the necessary changes that we want in our communities. It is within our power to fight against the abuse of women and children. It could be your actions today that help break the cycle of violence and abuse.
Over the next few weeks we will carry out 16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children campaign to create awareness of the impact of violence against women and children. This year the campaign will be held under the theme Count Me In, It is another leg of the 365 Days and #CountMeIn campaigns that aim to mobilise members of society, especially men, to join the national government against child and woman abuse.
We must do more to prevent this violence, support survivors of abuse, bring perpetrators to justice and rehabilitate them through rehabilitation programmes. Through our collective efforts we can create greater awareness, reduce sexual offences and attacks on women, children, people living with albinism and on the LGBTI community.
The government will convene national dialogues in all district municipalities starting during the 16 Days campaign and continuing into next year as the 365 Days against Violence to bring the scourge of violence against women and children to the fore. It is time community members’ shared personal stories of abuse and find collective solutions to end violence and abuse.
We encourage all to participate in these sessions so that issues that contribute to violence can be unmasked. The dialogue will include public education to help raise awareness. Furthermore, it will help the government assess the responsiveness of the criminal justice system and of local government.
The police and courts are empowered by law to arrest, prosecute and convict perpetrators of violence, assault and rape. The Children’s Act aims to protect children from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. However, we need community members to bring our legislation to life by reporting abuse so that victims can be helped and perpetrators brought to book.
The government has put measures in place to ensure better conviction rates and to help reduce the number of unreported sexual crimes. We have already reintroduced sexual offences courts to deal decisively with sexual violence. Through these initiatives the government ensures it is building a victim-centred criminal justice system. Cases before court are treated with the necessary sensitivity so victims do not experience secondary victimisation.
These interventions have gone a long way in turning the tide but the reality is that government alone cannot eradicate violence and abuse against women and children. This task falls upon all of us as these incidents take place within our homes, communities and workplaces. It is up to all sectors of society to partner with the government to create safer communities and protect victims of abuse.
It is also important that men in particular stand up and be counted in the fight against violence and abuse. We call on responsible father figures to instil the values of human dignity, equality and respect in the youth. They should teach young boys to respect women and to uphold our constitutional values.
Through the 16 Days of Activism and the 365 Days of No Violence campaign we have an opportunity to renew our commitment to end the brutal and dehumanising behaviour by some in our society. The North West police have confirmed that Poppie’s stepfather has been arrested for her death. While we wait for justice to take its course, let us use this tragedy to move us to action. In doing so we can ensure that others in our communities do not suffer the same fate.
Susan Shabangu is the Minister in The Presidency responsible for Women