It is the right of every child to have protection against violence, exploitation and abuse. This is a simple truth, but it is not a reality for many children who are the victims of violence, exploitation and abuse. It does not discriminate is prevalent at every socio-economic level, crosses ethnic and cultural lines and is present within all religions and at all levels of education. According to an article published by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), “Some girls and boys are particularly vulnerable because of gender, race, ethnic origin or socio-economic status. Higher levels of vulnerability are often associated with children with disabilities, who are orphaned, indigenous, from ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups. Other risks for children are associated with living and working on the streets, living in institutions and detention, and living in communities where inequality, unemployment and poverty are highly concentrated.”
This article also indicates that the perpetrators of the abuse are usually known to the child and can include parents, other family members, caretakers, teachers, employers, law enforcement authorities, state and non-state actors and other children. A sad fact is that only a few crimes of violence, exploitation and abuse are reported and investigated, resulting in the criminals not being held accountable.
The Children’s Act of 2005 (Act No. 38 of 2005) sets out principles relating to the care and protection of children and defines parental responsibilities and rights. Protection of children’s rights, as described in the Act, include the right to family care or parental care or appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment, the right to social services and the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.
Children often experience more than one types of abuse by their abusers.
It could include:
Neglect is a form of abuse and is the failure to provide for a child’s basic needs.
This includes food, water, shelter, warmth, failure to get or follow through with medical care, leaving a child without arranging the necessary care for them and / or with no intention of returning; or unwillingness or inability to provide appropriate care.
The UN Global Study on the Violence against Children (2006) provides an overview of the settings within which abuse occurs. This study highlights that children the family has the greatest potential to protect children and provide for their physical and emotional safety, yet it is particularly this ‘private’ space where children could be most vulnerable. The form of abuse could vary depending on the age of the child with the “shaken baby syndrome”, the abuse by shaking of small children, to discipline related psychological and physical abuse due to harsh punishment and sexual abuse.
Cultural practices such as genital mutilation and arranged marriages of young girls such as in the practice of ukuthwala where young girls are forced into marriage, often with the consent of their parents also infringe on the rights of children.
Schools and educational settings are also often sites of abuse among learners / children themselves as in the form of bullying, cyber bullying, sexual assault and between learners and educators in the form of harsh punishment, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse where the adults wield power and authority over children to control and exploit them.
Other sites where children are vulnerable to acts of abuse include residential, institutional settings such as children’s homes or places of safety and the broader community where exposure to drug abuse, gun related violence, trafficking and rape is also rife in our communities.
These settings where children are vulnerable to abuse, become key settings to target interventions that will protect the rights and safety of our children.
Sexual abuse is when an adult or an older and more powerful person uses a child for a sexual purpose.
This may involve a stranger, but it is mostly perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts. This includes any touching or fondling for sexual purposes, oral sex, sexual intercourse, an adult exposing themselves to the child, or seeking to have a child touch them.
It also includes voyeurism, photographing children inappropriately, involving the child in pornographic activities or prostitution, or using the internet and phone to initiate sexual conversations.
Emotional abuse occurs when the emotional, psychological or social well-being and sense of worth of a child is continually assaulted.
This is almost always present when other forms of abuse occur.
This can include criticizing, rejecting, degrading, ignoring, isolating, exploiting and terrorising a child. Effects may only become evident, as a child grows older.
If you’re concerned that your child or another child has been abused, seek help immediately. The sooner you get help and support for the child, the better the child’s chance of recovery.
The effects of child abuse vary widely and are affected by a combination of factors, including:
There are a range of physical, psychological and social consequences of child abuse