MOM, DAD, YOU CAN’T HIT ME!!! By Marida Fitzpatrick in the 23 February 2006 issue of YOU prompted me to write this article. While amendments to the Child Care Act to abolish corporal punishment, even in the privacy of one’s own home may appear harsh to many, I can only speak from the experience of someone who has been fighting for the rights of children for a number of years. Making and amending laws on its own is of no use if we cannot implement those laws to protect our children. We already have Section 28 of the Constitution which is supposed to ensure the rights of children. We already have a very good Child Care Act. What we do not have is the implementation of the Constitution for the rights of the child and we do not have the implementation of the Child Care Act because those responsible for implementing it are not held accountable. The child abuse in South Africa has become totally unacceptable. The destruction of one child’s emotional state or the death of one child, is one child too many, but we have a child go missing every 12 hours in our country and most of them are found sexually assaulted and murdered. I n the United Kingdom, if something happens to one child, the whole country is in uproar. In South Africa, our children are being abused and murdered and raped and starved, and no one seems to do anything about it. In the small town in which I live with my 40 plus children who are all abandoned, abused, neglected or orphaned, 465 out of 1000 births are born to mothers under the age of 18, many of them as young as 14 years. Not one of these cases has been reported to the SAPS as statutory rape which is part of our law, part of the protection of our children. Much of the problem regarding the abuse of our children stems from lack of knowledge regarding the policing of children’s rights and lack of accountability and responsibility on the part of the officials in responsible positions, such as hospital personnel, social workers, police and then of course, us, the communities. We do not take responsibility for the children in our own communities. We turn a blind eye to the abuse because we don’t want to get involved or because we are so compassion fatigued that we do not even notice the child who is begging in the street for a little money to buy food. It is so easy to say he just wants to buy glue with your money so you are not giving. But what about giving him a smile or asking him why he is on the street. So many of our orphans do not know who their father is or where he is and their mother has died and they are left to fend for themselves on the street. Another reason that we don’t do anything about the child abuse in our country is because it is in our faces all the time. Eventually we don’t even see it. I have taken a raped child of 9 years old to the police station and have been told by the police officer, “Why are you bringing her here again? She was raped last month. This is how these people live”. That little girl had a sexually transmitted disease. She had been raped so many times. In fact, my little ones have been raped so many times that when they first came to me they teased one another about how old their rapists were. “Your rapist was an old man. Ha ha ha. Mine was Amanda’s big brother”. To be raped so many times that it is normal for them is worse than tragic. Every one of the 23 child abuse cases that I reported and opened dockets for at the SAPS, the prosecutor refused to prosecute. I have been told that there was insufficient evidence and that the matter was resolved socially. Does the fact that I took the child in and am loving him or her and feeding and clothing and schooling them mean that the problem is socially resolved and that the rapist and abuser can now go free? Dr Zola Skweyiya, Minister for Social Development, stated in his keynote address at the launch of UNICEF’s state of the World’s Children Report 2006 in Cape Town on 6 February 2006 that when we adopted our constitution we did so to heal the divisions of the past and to build a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. While Dr Skweyiya did not deny the vulnerability of our children, he believes that it is mainly due to poverty, which the Department of Social Development has addressed through the Child Support Grant. This Support Grant has reduced the poverty gap by 16.6%. I applaud him for this. But he said nothing about the abuse of children. An article written by Guy Rogers which appeared in the Herald (27 February 2006) stated that a Sunday Times Markinor survey which was put to Neson Manela Bay respondents asked the question “How satisfied are you with action against child abuse?” elicited a highly critical response. Not a single female out of the 90 568 who responded said she was satisfied with the way the government was dealing with the issue. If so many women can say they are not satisfied, why then can we not stand together and demand some action? Poverty means lack of food and housing, the inability to take proper care of heath and education needs, abuse of workers, permanent unemployment, lack of respect for human dignity and unjust limitations placed on personal freedom in areas of self-expression and politics. But poverty does not mean that we can beat children with bricks, punch them and stab them, boil their hands and feet on stoves, sell our children to buy alcohol, let rapists pay us R500 for the privilege to rape our little girls and not report it, let adults sodomize our boys in exchange for a slice of bread, gang rape the children, leave them outside to sleep with the dogs, put them in chicken runs, leave them in the streets, not send them to school even though you get a Child Support Grant, leave them on the side of the road, unconscious and dying, neglect your parental responsibilities, abandon them on rubbish dumps, lock them in cupboards for weeks on end, forget to feed the baby for days because you are so drunk all the time and then ……. the orphans ….. no one wants them. They lose their mother, they don’t know who their father’s are and they are left on the street to fend for themselves. There is no dramatization of the above. Every one of these examples is a true and documented case. Poverty is a situation that destroys people, families and individuals but does it have to make us inhumane? Where has our compassion gone? Are we so compassion fatigued that we no longer see the children in the streets? Have you ever stopped and spoken to that child who asked you for money or for food? Or do you turn your head away at the traffic lights? Almost 900 children go missing every month in South Africa and most of them are found molested and dead. That is one every 12 hours. The SAPS are actively working on 1500 cases of missing children every month. March, 21st 2006 is Human Rights Day. Most people will think about the Human Rights of Adults. We need to think about the Human Rights of Children. Section 28 of our Constitution deals specifically with the Rights of Children. This is a day that we should take note of the horrors of child abuse. The time for forums and meetings are over. While we are putting forums and committees and meetings together, our children are dying. We need to demand action. We need to demand that every government official responsible for children and their rights is held accountable. We need to demand that child abusers are arrested by the police, that the investigators investigate and find the evidence so that the prosecutor can do his job properly and that the magistrate can sentence the abuser and that the message can get out there that child abusers and rapists will not be tolerated. We need a community that understands that “Every child is my child”. We need to know that a community or country that does not care for its children has no future. We need to take responsibility for our children and we need to be accountable. If we fail to report child abuse when we see it, we are as guilty as the abuser. Nelson Mandela said, “The reward of the ending of apartheid will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of the children. The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living, are testimony to an unfinished business”. Eleven years down the road, we have not even begun to reap the reward to the end of apartheid if it is to be measured by the happiness of our children. We have a lot of unfinished business. Let us stand up together for our children’s sake. Our children depend on us!
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