Children are among society’s most vulnerable members. As such it is extremely important that their rights are respected and protected- particularly those who have disabilities. Unfortunately this is all too often not the case. National Child Protection Week- held in 2019 from the 28th of May to the 4th of June- offers an opportunity to reflect on how children are treated and how we can better this. To this effect, SAFMH has compiled a press release on the subject. Read it here:
The 28th of May to the 4th of June is Child Protection Week 2019. According to UNICEF (2006), child protection is comprised of “preventing and responding to violence, neglect and exploitation against children.” Children are perhaps the most vulnerable demographic of the population. When this vulnerability is compounded by a child having a disability, extra care must be taken to protect the young individual.
Unfortunately, we fail our children in many respects. According to the World Health Organisation (2012), children with disabilities are nearly 4 times more likely to be abused than their non-disabled counterparts. This is a shocking statistic and unacceptable in a world where international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are almost universally ratified.
With regard to child protection, South Africa does not fare too well. A shocking revelation in this regard came from the 2015 Optimus Study, which revealed that one in three people experience violence in childhood, but reporting rates are far lower, with a mere 41 000 cases being reported to the authorities in 2015. One in five children report that they have been hit, kicked or beaten by an adult person and South Africa’s rate of child murder is double the global average. An analysis of the National Crime Statistics in 2014/15 indicated that over a third of families feel it is not safe to go to parks or other open spaces alone and 69% of people indicated that they feel unsafe walking around when it is dark, suggesting that people perceive South Africa to be an unsafe place to raise children.
What is most disappointing is that abuse of children comes in the face of a comprehensive legal framework. The Children’s Act creates a comprehensive child protection system- something that is only set to be enhanced by the upcoming Third Amendment to the Children’s Act. The Children’s Act provides for protective mechanisms for all children- mechanisms that are mandated to be tailored to the needs of a particular child, and any disability that child may have. Why then are South Africa’s children mired in abuse, neglect and degradation?
Child abuse can catalyse a range of mental health issues. According to Springer, Sheridan, Quo and Carnes (2003), “childhood abuse is positively related to adult depression, aggression, hostility, anger, fear, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.” This comes in the face of the fact that young people are, already, in a precarious position when it comes to mental health. According to United for Global Mental Health worldwide 10%-20% of children and adolescents experience mental health disorders. Half of mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s.
So what is to be done?
First of all it is necessary to create a child rights culture in South Africa. It must be impressed on society that children must be treated with dignity and respect. Society must be willing to learn about and understand the rights of the child and to make concerted efforts to improve how it nurtures the younger generation and ensures that it fosters positive conditions for growth and development. Secondly, Government must take positive and concrete steps to improve service delivery to children- safety, security, rapid response to imminent dangers to children, rapid response to crimes committed against children, the implementation of law and the provision of the aforesaid all-important education to the public. We make these calls with a view to ensure that the children of our country can grow up happy and healthy, living and maturing in a good state of mental health.
SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation seeking to uphold and protect the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. We wish to impress upon both society and its Government the need to ensure that children are protected and that they do not suffer abuse. A loving and nurturing environment is integral for children to learn to cope with every day pressures and stressors of life and to have successful school lives, home lives and work lives later on. It’s time to #takeyourplace in ensuring that our children are safe. STOP child abuse. Today.
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
South African Federation for Mental Health
Tel: 011 781 1852
Cell: 072 2577 938