Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation. These are the guiding words of our icon and former President Nelson Mandela, cautioning the nation on the importance protecting children.
In this the centenary year of the celebration of his life, Madiba’s sage advice becomes even more poignant as we grapple with the increasing scourge of child abuse and murders taking place in our society.
The recent brutal murder of two schoolgirls in Katlehong, Ekurhuleni, the disappearance of three girls in Mahikeng, North West and the senseless hanging of two girls in Stella, North West, brings into sharp focus the level of violence that threatens our children.
These horrific incidents highlights that more needs to be done urgently to strengthen the fight against abuse. It is not enough to simply express shock or condemnation at these atrocious crimes. There is a desperate need for us to create safer spaces where children can freely live, play and develop. The recent marking of the annual National Child Protection Week reminds us that we must recommit ourselves to doing everything possible to protect our children.
We are emboldened by the spirit of “Thuma Mina-Send Me”, inspired by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his 2018 State of the Nation Address, that it is our personal responsibility to confront our challenges and bring lasting change.
Young people in particular can be the true change-makers in the fight against child abuse by taking a firm stand that it will not be tolerated. They can send an unequivocal message by immediately reporting those who hurt, exploit and abuse children so they can be arrested and convicted.
Parents and guardians must also play their part by always putting the safety of their children first and knowing where they are at all times.
People who are aware of any crimes against children are encouraged to contact Childline toll-free on 0800 055 555 or Crime Stop on 086 0010111.
From its side, the government has adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards child abuse. The measures we have put in place make it as easy as possible for children to seek help against abuse or exploitation. In addition, we have adopted legislation and policies to ensure our children are treated fairly and with respect.
Our law enforcement agencies and courts are empowered through the Child Justice Act and the Sexual Offenses and Related Matters Amendment Act to hold those who infringe of children’s rights to account.
Importantly, our law ensures that there is no waiting period to report a missing child. Parents and guardians must immediately contact their local police station to help fast-track the investigations.
Through these various initiatives, the government is ensuring that it is building a victim-centred criminal justice system.
Moreover, recent sentences handed down by our courts in child abuse cases show how seriously our justice system views the scourge.