Sexual Abuse of Children: public hearings

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Meeting report

TASK GROUP ON THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN

TASK GROUP ON THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN
14 March 2002
SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN: PUBLIC HEARINGS

Chairperson:
Mr E Saloojee (ANC)

Documents handed out:
none

SUMMARY
Two children from each Province presented an account of their experiences to the Task Group, under the supervision of their caretakers. After the first Eastern Cape presenter spoke, a Member intervened and asked if the children were debriefed about the nature of the proceedings, as the children were making disclosures which were very painful, and some of the children were breaking down in tears. The remainder of the submissions was held in camera, and members of the public were asked to leave the room. However, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group was allowed to minute the meeting, but for the sake of confidentiality, the names of children are not divulged.

MINUTES
Afrika Cultural Trust
Mr Benji Francis from the Afrika Cultural Trust, based in Johannesburg, explained that children have a way of perceiving the environment in a manner that is vastly different to adults. Children's empirical and experiential elements differ from that of adults. The aim of the children's presentation is to analyse and project their views on how they understood the impact of sexual abuse on them, and in their daily lives. Each Province had two representatives. The caregivers of the children were also present to comfort and console the children, bearing in mind the traumatic experiences which they wished to relate to the task Group.

Briefing by the Northern Province
The first male speaker said that he was going to talk about sexual abuse which is affecting and threatening the children. Child abuse is a war which we cannot afford to lose, and children are abused and exploited for basic survival. Poverty is one of the enemies that children face, and because of it, children are exploited. Both males and females are the victims of sexual abuse and this puts the children at a risk of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies. As children of South Africa, they are confident that there are councilors, psychologists and health workers who make a difference to those who are affected. The question is whether the government doing enough to protect the children of South Africa from abuse? He said that it is important for the government to look around and see if the strategies which are in place to protect the children are making a difference, as where he comes from, it has not made a difference. He has a friend who was abused by her stepfather; there will come a time when she will eventually try and kill herself because of the abuse which she cannot deal with. But suicide is not a solution. The police are not providing the correct service for abused children and they do not respect the children.

What is the government going to do about his friend's future? As long as abusers are not punished, and the police do not handle the cases properly, the abuse will not stop. Community support is essential. He referred to city gangs which also exploit children; children are introduced to drugs and exploited for the exchange of money. In private homes too, children are exploited, but parents are powerless to intervene as they fear for the lives of the children and themselves. He feared for the lives and the economic survival of the children of South Africa

The second speaker was a partially blind twelve-year-old female who said that she was happy to represent the disabled children of South Africa. What have the children done to deserve this type of abuse and exploitation? Children, and even their parents, live in fear of them being raped, as children are now being raped by family members at home. Today children do not even trust their teachers because they too could abuse them. They do not know whom to trust and this leads to frustration on their part.

How does it feel when a 35 year old man rapes a baby and a mentally retarded child, and how does it feel when you see a baby lying in a pool of blood? What forces men to rape children? She pleaded for the end of the rape of children.

The speaker then related the situation at their boarding school. Over weekends, when the teachers go home, the children are left alone. Strangers force them to sleep with them in exchange for money, but when they see that they are blind they do not get money as the perpetrators are no longer afraid of being identified. When these incidents are reported to teachers, they teachers reply that we are black people who do not understand life. She said that people do not treat them like other 'normal people' and feel as they are blind, so too are their minds. Once a deaf and dumb boy, after visiting a shebeen, broke into their dormitory and raped a girl, the incident was reported to the teachers who said that that is just the way it is, and that they do not understand anything. Even teachers do not respond to the crisis of rape.

In her opinion, the Government should provide injections for rapists so that they do not feel anything, not even an erection, and their private parts should be removed. This will help them to protect themselves. She asked for a better future, and said if one is abused and has the opportunity to start life over, that should be seen as a new beginning for that person.

Briefing by the Mpumalanga Province
The first speaker was a fifteen-year-old-female who spoke about her personal experience of being raped. She said that she prays to God to help the children, and that all abused children must pray to God for help. Child abuse must be stopped as the children want to be free and safe. She concluded by saying that she does not want other children to suffer.

The second speaker, a male, said that in South Africa and the rest of the world children are being abused and that people must not do that, especially to small children. Sexual abuse happens everyday, and many children are afraid. The speaker said that he hoped the Government would listen to them and stop the abuse, as the children have the right to be protected and to feel safe.

Briefing by Eastern Cape
The first speaker was a female in Grade 10. She related her personal story of being raped by her stepfather. Although she reported the incident to her teachers, who thereafter reported the incident to the police, the perpetrator was never arrested. She feels let down by her mother, who should have been there to protect her, and the police, who should enforce the laws. Her whole life changed from that point, and she now holds a grudge against every man and does not trust anyone. Rapists and abusers are destroying their future. When will the parliamentarians do some thing about it? Parliamentarians are the custodians of the country which will be ruled by these children in the future. Children's rights and responsibilities should be discussed continuously. The subject of rights and responsibilities should form part of the agenda for meetings and Imbizos, and there should be an office at all levels of government which deal with issues relating to children, to ensure what is entrenched in the Constitution is adhered to.

At this point, Ms Kalyan (DP) asked if the children were de-briefed about the nature of this hearing. As they were making disclosures in public, it might be traumatic for them and the other children present.

Mr Francis said that the children were there to reveal what they wished to say. There was no coercion, and people need a clear understanding from the child's perception on the subject.

Ms Govender (ANC) said that she showed a deep appreciation to the children and that it is very courageous of them to speak to the group. The committee should not subject the children to their debate on how they want to treat this hearing from this point on. She asked that the meeting be adjourned until they could decide on the future conduct of the hearing.

Whilst the Members were deliberating, Mr Francis said that the reason for this adjournment was that the nature of these proceedings are disturbing for the Members as well as other children, therefore they will decide on how to take the matter further.

The children expressed their desire to proceed as it would help them to heal, and help other children if the Committee could be made to understand what the children were going through. One child suggested that the parliamentarians did not wish to hear their stories. But Mr Francis said that this was not the issue.

On resumption of the meeting the Chairperson said to the children that they were probably wondering why the Members adjourned the meeting. He stated that it was very courageous of them to express themselves, as the abuse and rape relates to something that is very painful and difficult to forget. As a result, they were trying to create a comfortable setting for the children. To this Mr Francis stated that the children are supported by their care-givers and that it is critically important for the children to complete the mandate on how to help sexually abused children.

The second speaker from the Eastern Cape was a fourteen-year-old female, who lives in a children's home. She said that from the time she was abandoned at age two, she was sent to live with relatives where she was exposed to all forms of abuse: physical, emotional, and sexual. At the children's home she has grown to learn what it is like to be a child, and that it is the first stable environment that she has been in. One of the girls at the home was abused by her father, as a result she is very mentally disturbed and even writes on the wall with her own blood. Her father who is supposed to help and protect her, has led her to her destruction. What would happen to this country in the future if this does not end? She read out Article 19 of the UNICEF charter and Section 26 of the Constitution and pleaded that parliamentarians use their influence and power to turn that into reality.

Briefing by Northern Cape
The first speaker was a fifteen-year-old-male who said that there is something really bad going on in his community. People are using their welfare money for drugs and alcohol and this is influencing the children to run away from the homes and live on the street. This is destroying their dignity and future as the children could be the leaders of tomorrow. He said that a nine-month old baby has been raped and when he looks at his five-month-old sister, he fears for her safety. Even when children attend school, they are not safe. Perhaps rapists and abusers want to express their anger and fear on the children. In the newspaper it has been said that every 38 seconds a women and child is raped, and now our country is not safe because of HIV/AIDS.

The government should work with NGOs and support the children throughout the country by establishing homes, provide social workers and more councilors. They need that support. The speaker mentioned that even when they are with their elders and parents they are fearful, and they do not have the freedom to move around safely. The government should look into this. It is not as if the government is not doing anything, but that they can make a difference.

The second speaker was a thirteen-year-old female who related her experience of rape and assault by her stepfather. Because the police-men were friends of her stepfather, he was never arrested.

Briefing by Free State
The first speaker was a female in Grade 12. Her mum was deceased and her father and his family did not want anything to do with her. She related the story of her mum being raped at an early age and conceiving her. If her mum could have finished her studies, she would have been able to earn a living and not wait for her dad to send them money. If her mum were not forced to have sex with her dad her, she would have realised her dreams and the goals that she wanted to achieve. She wants the government to end this type of abuse, and to do something to the rapists. She does not want to be in a place of safety.

The second speaker was a sixteen-year-old-male, who related his experience to the group. He wanted the government to help put children's needs first, to put more money into children's homes so that the children could complete their studies and find jobs.

Briefing by North West Province
The first speaker, a sixteen-year-old female said that she has a positive self-esteem and outlook on the future. Sexual abuse is a national concern and asked: where do she stand, when will she be attacked, and should she continue to trust anybody She said that boys too are sexually abused but they do not talk about it. The speaker asked how do you explain a twenty-four-year-old woman forcing herself onto a five-year-old boy. There is sexual abuse and exploitation of minors because they cannot help themselves. Sex education is needed that children should be told about exploitation. We should stop abuse, and if our parents or the police do not help, the children must do something for themselves.

The second speaker was a seventeen-year-old male, who said that he is representing the concerned citizen of South Africa, and to pass his message to the government and the culprits. He emphasised that abuse causes a problem not only to the victim, but the family as well as those in the medical field. The community needs to be aware of this. He said that it is a fact that every child has the right to care, education, and every person has the right to protect children. In his culture there is a saying that my child is your child and your child is my child, and he asked why does abuse still go on. Often you get the case where the mother dies and the father remains to treat the child as a sex object. Why? Have people lost their culture and morality?

The speaker said that the prosecution of these culprits needs to be addressed, as often perpetrators are given bail. He related the experience of his close friend whose mother has died and whose father has used her as a replacement for the dead wife/mother. During the day his friend would attend school, but on her return home turn into wife. Not only has the man been sentenced to fifteen years in jail, but his friend has found out that she is HIV positive.

Who are the future leaders of our country would be and what they would be like if the problem does not end? Sex education as part of the curriculum must be included, to educate children from an early age about their rights. The Justice Department must create a friendly environment for children to give their evidence in. Child abuse is at the top of the children's worries. The speaker said that when dealing with children, it is important to remember that they are entitled to care and education. Child abuse should never be tolerated. Everybody has a responsibility to prevent it. There should be child friendly adults and adults should act in the best interests of the child.

Briefing by Gauteng
The first speaker was a female who related the story of a friend who was raped and ran away from home. Abuse shatters one's dreams and often the victim is made to look like a monster. Abuse destroys lives and the future of children. If one is abused by a teacher you need a social worker or a psychologist to report it to and to understand what you have been through. The youth would like the government to understand the needs of the youth. More jobs should be provided so that parents do not take out the stresses on the children. Government and community workers should work together and hold workshops for children and adults. The speaker mentioned the plight immigrants who are treated badly. Even though they are beaten and abused by the police and other gangs, they should be afforded better treatment. The government should sort out the problem.

The second speaker was a blind female who related her story of abuse. Her father raped her on numerous occasions, threatening her with a knife not to tell a soul. When she first reported the matter to her neighbors, the police did not believe her. However when she went to the school for the blind, her isolation in the school made her reveal her story to the teachers. Fortunately her father was eventually arrested for the crime. The speaker said that she still lives in fear because now her mother has a new boyfriend, and she is afraid that he might rape her. When a blind person is raped it is difficult to identify the perpetrator, if the perpetrator remains silent. Her plea is that SAPS believe the blind person's version of the story. She would like to indicate that children's rights are protected, and the government should intervene in the problems.

Briefing by Western Cape
The first speaker was a thirteen-year-old female, who said that she was a member of Molo Songololo, a community based project which teaches young children how to deal with sexual abuse. She is a foster sister to a girl who suffered rape and other physical abuse and related her story to the task team. She referred to a community that killed a perpetrator, and said that she would want the government to enforce laws so that rapists can be locked up, and that the community should be educated to take the rights of children seriously.

The second speaker was a sixteen-year-old male who stated that it hurts him when he considers children's experiences, such as fear and anger. He said that he wants to air his views so that the government could come up with means to combat sexual abuse. The speaker said that sexual abuse robs children of their dignities. It seemed as if no one cared about sexual abuse. Children felt lonely, abandoned and unloved, and some even commit suicide. Is the law promoting such evils, because the police do not respond quick enough? The government should no longer stand and watch, there should be a call to NGOs and other Departments to unite and stay "no" to abuse. There should be a program on how to deal with abuse. Parliamentarians should also assist, and new laws be established to stop all rapists and abusers. Government should put children's rights first, and there should be more talks in schools.

Briefing by Kwa-Zulu Natal
The first speaker was a fifteen-year-old male who said the purpose of his being here was to encourage work with the government to end actions that infringe the rights of children. Sexual abuse is unbearable, and how could children be led into the commercial exploitation of sex. How does an adult decide to destroy a baby? The speaker said that the children are the future, and that it would not help by abusing, raping and killing the children. He was asking for the protection of adults, and for adults to help them take action on behalf of the children.

The second speaker was a female who spoke about child trafficking and child prostitution. She said that 40% of female prostitutes were under the age of nineteen. They are normally running away from home because of abuse. In Durban 80% of the prostitutes found in Durban were in the Point Road and Berea area. The government should prevent this. There is the suggestion that former military, police personnel and other high ranking persons involved in the trafficking of children. She suggested that South Africa network with other countries to put a stop to this.

Response by Care-Givers
The care-givers pointed out the following proposals to assist the fight against the sexual abuse of children:

-Poverty relief projects-communities to be resilient to ensure that earnings are not abused for alcohol etc. This would lead to the further abuse of children.

-There is a need to compensate for the lack of support for caregivers/parents of children who have been abused - this might stop the numbers of children who run away.

-Child-friendly trauma centers need to be set up.

-There is a lack of security in places of safety - are children properly protected?

-Recreational facilities needed to stem the wave of youth delinquency
bored children get into trouble.

-A strong child in strong families and strong communities needs to be promoted.

-There is a need to make use of volunteers and to support these partnerships.

The hearings were adjourned.

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