From the moment the nurse places the new-born baby in a parent’s arms, an overwhelming instinct to protect and nurture takes hold. Any selfishness fades as you look at that tiny, helpless body and realise that its needs are now your main concern.
Sadly, that is not the experience for all children and sometimes our paths cross those who are neglected or abused. Such experiences inevitably leave us troubled and confused, yet it does not always move us to action.
Our silence could have devastating consequences, which could condemn these children to lives in unsafe environments. This could ultimately cause irreparable physical and emotional harm or in the worst case even death.
During Child Protection Week we would like to encourage South Africans to break the silence and urge communities to put children first. This campaign under the theme, “Working Together to Protect Children”, started on 27 May 2013 will run until 2 June 2013.
President Jacob Zuma emphasised the importance of protecting children by saying: “We have to work together to protect children in distress, children who suffer neglect, abuse or exploitation and children who live in extreme poverty and for whom life still remains a struggle despite the progress made since the dawn of freedom.”
South Africa has progressive legislation which protects the rights of children. Section 28 of the Constitution states that a child's best interests are of paramount importance in every matter that affects them.
The Children’s Act gives further meaning to the rights outlined in the Constitution. It clearly describes the principles relating to the care and protection of children, in particular parental responsibilities.
During Child Protection Week, Government would like to raise awareness of legislation affecting children. It is important for Government to educate children on the provisions of the Children’s Act so that they are familiar with their rights.
However, the responsibility ultimately rests with adults, particularly parents, caregivers and teachers to ensure that we protect and care for children to the best of our ability.
Government is mindful that many families grapple with the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality and these factors often have a greater impact on children than adults. Against this background Government implemented various initiatives to address these challenges.
With regard to unemployment, Government is investing in economic development through our infrastructure development programme. This will not only create jobs for numerous parents, but will also upgrade South Africa’s social infrastructure such as sanitation, electricity and roads which will, in turn, contribute to enhancing the living conditions of children.
Through our Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs), we aim to improve access to education. Our National School Build Programme (SIP 13) will ensure that 200 unsuitable schools are replaced over the next few years. In the new financial year, we will also provide 873 schools with sanitation; provide water to 448 and electricity to 369. This will provide safe, effective and modern schools to ensure our children complete their education in an optimal learning and supportive environment.
Since 1994 Government has implemented various initiatives to lessen the impact of poverty on our children. Currently 70 per cent of learners in 20 688 schools do not pay school fees, while 8,8 million children are provided with a nutritious meal on each school day. Additionally, more than 10 million children are benefitting from social grants.
The Integrated School Health Programme further benefits our learners through the provision of essential health services especially in the country's neediest schools. By September last year Government made comprehensive in-school health services available to 290 602 learners.
We however remain concerned about crimes against our children. The Child Reports from Crime Research and Statistics of the South African Police Service (SAPS) reported that crimes against children amounted to 50 688 in the 2011/12 financial year which is 6,5 per cent lower than in 2010/11.
To deal with crimes against our children, the SAPS created specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units, which ensure dedicated investigators and other resources are assigned to cases where children are affected by violence.
These units, in conjunction with other relevant role players such as social workers, educators and victim support organisations, assist in the preparation and support of witnesses during court procedures.
Since it takes a village to raise a child, Government needs the help of parents, guardians, teachers, non-profit organisations, faith-based groups, communities and various other role players.
We also call on political, community and religious leaders to use their respective platforms to encourage adults to foster stronger family relations and treat children with respect.
Government urges parents to ensure that children’s surroundings are safe and social grants are used to their benefit. Additionally parents should actively participate in their children’s lives, pay maintenance where it is required and spend quality time with their children. Mostly, parents and guardians should seek help when they notice the first indication of physical or verbal abuse.
Families and communities often ignore obvious and subtle signs of child abuse. It affects us all and we need to speak out against it. We call on every South African to report any form of abuse to authorities, but mostly also to offer support to those affected.
The wellbeing of children is our shared responsibility. Show your support by wearing a green ribbon during Child Protection Week.
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)