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Break the silence against child abuse

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
As the country commemorates 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has called on communities to break the silence and fight child abuse.

“If you suspect any child abuse is happening, don’t keep quiet, report it to your nearest police station or the various call centres that have been set up,” said Major-General Yvonne Botsheleng, Head of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit at SAPS.

She said although the FCS Unit is committed to ensuring the safety of children, parents, family members, teachers and community leaders must play a role in protecting children from abuse.

“It takes a village to raise a child – it is the whole community’s responsibility to take ownership of ensuring the safety of our children,” said Maj-Gen Botsheleng.

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children is an international awareness-raising campaign.

It is commemorated every year from 25 November, which is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to 10 December, known as International Human Rights Day. The period also includes Universal Children’s Day and World Aids Day.

The Department of Women has moved away from event-driven 16 Days of Activism on no violence against women and children to a programme that must happen 365 days. The department launched #365 days where members of society including men are encouraged to join hands with government against this scourge with the theme “Count me in”.

Fight crimes against children

Maj-Gen Botsheleng highlighted that the FCS Unit has improved its services to ensure that it can fight crimes against children. This has resulted in a decrease in the number of reported cases and a strong conviction record against those who commit child abuse.

According to the official crime statistics, crimes against children have decreased year-on-year from 48 718 reported cases in the 2012/13 financial year to 45 230 in the 2013/14 financial year. The conviction rate is up to 75 per cent.

She added that the SAPS could not fight the violence against women and children alone but need the support of the community.

Re-establishment of the FCS unit making a difference

According to Maj-Gen Botsheleng, the re-establishment of the FCS Unit in 2010 has helped secured over 1 832 life sentences for crimes against women and children.

The FCS Unit was re-launched in 2010 after being absorbed into the greater police service in 2006. Since then it has doubled its resources and now has 176 units and close to 2 500 members nationwide.

In addition, the FCS employs a network of highly-skilled forensic social workers to help with the assessment of abused children and the compilation of court reports, as well as for providing expert testimony in court.

The FCS is involved in the policing of sexual offences against children, person-directed crimes where the family is involved, illegal removal of children under 12 and electronic media-facilitated crime. Two current areas of particular concern for the FCS are child pornography and sexual offences.

“Over half of all crimes against children that are reported involve sexual offences. This is being intensified by the increase of electronic media for the transmission of child pornography.

“When it comes to policing child trafficking, the SAPS has a highly specialised desk operating under the Hawks – the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI).”

Some of the signs that a child is being sexually abused
  • Explicit sexual behaviour
  • Change in behaviour
  • Anger, aggression
  • Depression, suicide attempts
  • Withdrawal or regression
  • Problems with urination
  • A drop in their school performance
  • Vagina: Discharge, trauma, bleeding, foreign body
  • Discomfort when walking or sitting.
Tips for keeping your children safe

Maj-Gen Botsheleng gave the following advice on how to safeguard children: 

  • Always be aware of your children’s whereabouts and ensure there is somebody looking after them at all times.
  • Keep a close eye on your child’s cellphone, internet usage and with whom they’re communicating.
  • Do a background check on any child minders (nannies) that you employ and any daycare or crèche that you send your children to.
  • If you can’t fetch your children from school, make sure the teachers are aware of who will be collecting them.
  • If abuse is happening within the family unit, don’t ignore it or try and manage it internally. Reach out for professional help from the SAPS or the various child protection institutions.
  • Children must be honest with their parent/s so that they can be helped quickly or abuse can be picked up easily. 
  • Parents must know and understand their children, talk openly to them about abuse and ensure their protection.

To report any suspected child abuse, neglect or exploitation, please contact any of the following hotlines (you can remain anonymous): 

  • SMS Crime Line: 32211
  • Department of Social Development 24-hour Command Centre: 0800 428 428 (toll-free) – callers can speak to a social worker for assistance and counselling
  • Callers can also request a social worker from the Command Centre to contact them by dialing *120*7867# (free) from any cell phone
  • Child Welfare South Africa: 0861 424453 / 011 452-4110 / email:info@childwelfaresa.org.za 
  • SAPS Crime Stop: 08600 10 111