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March 2021 1st edition

Protect our children

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

It is important to know the signs of child abuse so that help can be sought for any possible victims.

Child abuse is an ongoing problem across the world and South Africa’s children have not been spared.

Buyisiwe Sophazi, the director of Children Services at the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Social Development (DSD), says child abuse is an intentional act to harm a child. This can be through physical, sexual or emotional harm.

“In South Africa, having sex with a child under 16 years of age is abuse, even if there was consent,” says Sophazi.

The law also prohibits employing children under the age of 15.

Abused children often have emotional, physical and other symptoms. Physical signs of abuse include bruises, burns and fractures.

Other signs of child abuse include:

  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Extreme sexual behaviour that’s inappropriate for the child’s age.
  • A sudden drop in school performance.
  • Developing eating disorders.
  • Self-harming.

Report abuse

Sophazi says the first step in helping an abused child is to report the abuse to the nearest police station, DSD office or a non-profit organisation that assists abused children.

“When people report abuse to the DSD, they can do so anonymously. However, we need the child’s name and the school they attend so that one of our social workers can contact the child.”

Sophazi says when abuse is reported, a child could be moved to a place of safety, such as a child and youth care facility run by the DSD. Here, they will receive counselling and other assistance.

“There are therapy sessions designed to deal with each individual child’s circumstances at these facilities. They also take part in group therapy sessions but we mostly focus on ensuring that the abused child gets help as an individual.”

Child abuse is often associated with neglect as well domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, parental mental health issues, poverty and young people who are disconnected from their families. Very often, children are abused within the family, by a caregiver or someone they know.

A child who has been abused in the long term, often suffers from impaired development mentally, physically and emotionally.

Get help

There are a number of organisations that can help abused children. These include:

  • Childline – 0800 055 555
  •  National Department of Social Development - 0800 220 250
  •  Lifeline – 0861 322 322
  • GBV Command Centre – 0800 428 428 or *120*7867#
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