There is a strong need for official data focusing on the prevalence of child abuse, including sexual offences against minors, Public Protector Adv. Thuli Madonsela said on Tuesday.
She was speaking at the launch of the Child Witness Foundation in Sandton, Johannesburg. The Foundation is expected to amplify the work of the Child Witness Institute, a non-profit organisation that has been devoted to issues of child abuse over the last 20 years, including research that has helped shape government policy.
It will focus on research relating to prevention programmes and expanded training for officials who provide care to traumatised children.
Addressing the launch, Adv. Madonsela said research was needed on the causes of crime, particularly violent crime against children, including rape, other forms of abuse and murder.
This, the Public Protector said, would help society, including government and organisations such as the Child Witness Institute to develop programmes geared towards addressing the scourge.
“It is not enough to say we have had these many cases of sexual violence”, the Public Protector said, “We need to break it down into categories in order to shine a spotlight on the plight of vulnerable groups.”
Adv. Madonsela related a heartbreaking story of a minor who was gang-raped and had to endure further trauma as her court case was going back and forth through the justice value chain, culminating in the case being postponed 48 times and drawn out for nine years. Her office had investigated the matter and red-carded the entire justice value chain –from the police to the courts- for failing the victim, going against the dictates of the Victims Charter. At the time, the victim had told a newspaper that she would not have reported the matter had she known that the system would fail her in the manner it did.
The Public Protector said this was an example of how sexual abuse had become a major challenge in society despite children’s rights being protected under Section 28 of the Constitution.
She said it was painful to note that homes had become the most dangerous places for children and that adults, who were supposed to jealously provide a place of safety for the children, were increasingly becoming the monsters harming the minors.
Adv. Madonsela encouraged victims to report sexual crimes to authorities and not hold back for fear of the victimisation experienced by the gang-rape victim in whose case the Public Protector intervened.
Commenting on how the criminal justice system should approach cases involving children, Adv. Madonsela said Charlotte Maxeke, a trailblazer in the area of child justice, warned years ago that straitjacketing children into a criminal justice system designed for grown-ups was inappropriate for children.
She said while some of Ms Maxeke’s child justice ideas have been mainstreamed in the criminal justice system, the system remained anchored in the paradigm of the ideal participant been a grown-up man, who was affluent, educated and white.
The Public Protector said that child abuse should be low-lying fruit that can be easily attended to because most cases of assault left a trail of evidence. She advised that rape too could be relatively easy as consent was not a defence in cases of statutory rape.
On the latest official crime statistics, Adv. Madonsela said although the figures were not disaggregated, anecdotal evidence showed that the murder of children increased considerably over the years.
Adv. Madonsela said she hoped crime statistics in the country would in future focus on the number of crimes solved as is done in countries such as Singapore because the act of reporting a crime was something that could be manipulated.
“If we are to focus on crimes solved”, the Public Protector said, “we naturally have to look at the number of cases that are handled diligently until resolved and the number of convictions for matters such as child abuse, including rape.”
Adv. Madonsela said she had shared these views with the security cluster, especially regarding the killings at the Glebelands Hostel in Umlazi outside Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.