"In South Africa, over half of our children have experienced some form of violence from an early age. This has a long-lasting, negative impact on future generations", says Shanaaz Mathews, director of the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town. "The good news is that this violence can be prevented. This requires a shift in our approach to the problem. Currently efforts focus on responding to incidents of violence. But it is more effective to invest in programmes that prevent violence and protect our children before they get hurt."
Mathews spoke during the launch of the South African Child Gauge, an annual review of the situation of South Africa's children published by the Children's Institute. Its 9th edition focuses on the prevention of violence against children and was launched in Pretoria on Tuesday, exactly one week before the start of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children.
Breaking the cycle of violence is everyone's business
The South African constitution provides for the right of children to protection from maltreatment and the Children's Act was passed in 2005. Yet with 45,230 contact crimes against children reported in the 2013/14 crime statistics (an average of 123 per day) it is clear that current approaches to address the problem are insufficient.
According to the Child Gauge, breaking the cycle of violence will require a shift in practice and resources towards investing in prevention services that address the main causes for this violence. Such prevention strategies should start early and take into account key risk and protective factors at each stage of a child's development: for example, parenting and early childhood development programmes, training of teachers to develop a safe school environment or school-based programmes that include life skills trainings. These initiatives should be evaluated so that the promising ones can be scaled up.
Effective prevention of violence against children requires a multi-dimensional approach that depends on a wide range of role-players including parents, children, community members, social service workers, teachers, police and political leaders. They all need to work together and promote safe environments in which children can develop their full potential. In short, prevention is everyone's business.
Strengthen cooperation between government and civil society
The minister highlighted a number of actions by government to prevent violence, particularly against women and children. "In 2013, the sexual offences court was reintroduced. We have recently started a call centre for violence victims, including children. And we are in the process of setting up a social network platform that will help facilitate discussions on the issue. Above all, we are very thankful for the commitment of the Children's Institute and will continue to support their work."
As a way forward, the minister stressed the need for cooperation between government and civil society to address violence against children. "We cannot look away when the human rights of our children are neglected by acts of violence", said Minister Dlamini. "It is the responsibility of all of us to work together and make South Africa a safer and greater place for our children."
Violence is a choice