National Female and Child Homicide Study findings: Medical Research Council briefing

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Health

06 November 2012
Chairperson: Dr B Goqwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) briefed the Committee on the findings of the National Female and Child Homicide Study, drawn on information taken from 38 mortuaries, supported by police and forensic records. The figures were compared to the last study, which was done in 1999. The results showed that overall, the number of female homicides had decreased, and that while there was a negligible difference in the number of intimate femicide rape homicides, the number of non-intimate femicide rape homicides had increased by over 15%. Intimate femicide was the leading cause of female homicides in South Africa, with about three women killed per day in South Africa by an intimate partner. However, since one in five of the perpetrators was never identified, these figures could be skewed. MRC was concerned that the work being done on gender-based violence was not proving to be effective enough, and police investigations had not improved, although the significant reduction in the number of gun-related murders showed that the current legislation around gun control was effective. 

The male child homicide rate stood at 6.9 per 100 000 while that for female children stood at 3.99 per 100 000. For the 2009 year the number of abandoned babies stood at 161. Of the child homicides, 117 were gun-related with the majority of the victims being male. Rape homicide was suspected in 10% of all child homicides, with this problem affecting mainly girls. Alcohol had been found in the blood of 34% of those murdered in the 15 to 17-year age group. Many fatal child abuse cases were inadequately investigated, resulting in the perpetrator(s) never being convicted. A national strategy need to be developed and implemented which would seek to address child murders in South Africa.

Challenges around conducting this research included missing mortuary files and incorrect CAS numbers. Standardised practises should be implemented to ensure a linkage between post-mortems and police investigations in all unnatural deaths. Police investigations and the justice system needed to give female and child murders the attention they required, while legislation around gun control needed to be supported and strengthened, and contraception and abortion services should be strengthened. Programmes targeting boys at risk of teenage homicide should also be developed and implemented at schools.

Members asked whether data had been collected from rural areas, asked in which province most child and female homicides had occurred, what had been done to ensure the inclusion of data relating to cases where case dockets went missing, whether there were any figures around the number of women who were murdered as a result of their sexual orientation. They noted that members of the police force generally lacked adequate knowledge around these matters, and wondered whether the lack of social workers contributed to an increased murder rate, whether there were any figures around disabled women and children victims, as well as pensioners, and what the reasons were for the higher homicide rate among male children. The Chairperson expressed appreciation for the research, which had highlighted various weaknesses, particularly in policing, where corruption, mismanagement and a general lack of knowledge needed to be addressed. The Committee would also need to look into whether health services were effective, how to improve family planning and reduce substance abuse.

Meeting report

National Female and Child Homicide Study findings: SA Medical Research Council briefing
Ms Naeemah Abrahams, Deputy Director:Gender and Health, South African Medical Research Council, presented the findings of the National Female and Child Homicide Study. All cases were identified from death registers, and the mortuary files, including pathology reports, were used to verify if homicide was the case in each instance. Information extracted from these files included victims’ demographics, the cause of death, and blood alcohol levels. It was critical for the researchers to track the CAS number as well as the police station where the case was reported.

The study had used information from 38 mortuaries, an increase on the 25 mortuaries that were used for the study done in 1999. The number of female homicides had decreased from 3 793 in 1999 to 2 363 in 2009, while the number of intimate femicides decreased by 1 024. Non-intimate femicides had also decreased to 768. Overall, female homicide stood at 12.9 per 100 000. While there was a negligible difference in the number of intimate femicide rape homicides, the number of non-intimate femicide rape homicides had increased by over 15%.

The comparison of the two identical surveys had provided an opportunity to monitor gender-based violence in South Africa. There had, generally, been a reduction in female homicide. Intimate femicide saw a less significant decrease, and this was the leading cause of female homicides in South Africa. On average, three women were killed per day in South Africa by an intimate partner, although this figure was likely to be an underestimate, since no perpetrator was identified for one out of every five murders. Work being done on gender-based violence was not proving to be effective enough. There was also no proof that police investigations had improved, as the number of convictions had decreased. The significant reduction in the number of gun-related murders showed that the current legislation around gun control was effective.

Ms Shanaaz Mathews, Specialist Scientist, South African Medical Research Council, gave a presentation on child homicide and fatalities. She noted that the male child homicide rate stood at 6.9 per 100 000, while that for female children stood at 3.99 per 100 000. For the 2009 year, the number of abandoned babies stood at 161, with 72 being male and 89 female. 117 of the child homicides reported were gun-related, with the majority of the victims (76%) being male. Over 50% of these were found in the 15 to 17-year age group, with 88% in the teenage group being male. 45% of all child homicides were child abuse- or neglect-related. Here, the figure stood at 204 per 100 000. Rape homicide was suspected in 10% of all child homicides, with this problem affecting mainly girls. Alcohol had been found in the blood of 34% of those murdered in the 15 to 17-year age group.

Numerous cases had been found where, subsequent to deaths where abuse had been suspected, case dockets went missing or no police case could be traced. Many fatal child abuse cases were inadequately investigated, resulting in the perpetrator(s) never being convicted. It was essential that a national strategy be developed and implemented that would address child murders in South Africa.

Ms Lorna Martin,
Head of Division: Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, University of Cape Town, added that challenges around conducting this research included missing mortuary files and incorrect CAS numbers. With the Department of Health now having taken over the management of Medico-Legal Mortuaries, standardised practises should be implemented to ensure a linkage between post-mortems and police investigations in all unnatural deaths. Where this had been done, the appointment of a liaison officer between the mortuaries and the police appeared to be working well, and had also had a positive effect on police investigations.

Ms Abrahams concluded that police investigations and the justice system should give female and child murders the attention they required, that legislation around gun control should be supported and strengthened, and contraception and abortion services should be strengthened. In addition, programmes targeting boys at risk of teenage homicide should be developed and implemented at schools.

Discussion
Ms L Makhubele-Mashele (ANC) asked whether data had been collected from rural areas. She wondered where, across the provinces, most of the child and female homicides had occurred.
 
Ms Martin answered that there was strong rural representation in the data collected, as the overwhelming majority of mortuaries were located in rural areas.

Ms Abrahams added that the findings of the recently conducted Mortality Study would provide greater information around inter-provincial comparisons.

Ms Makhubele-Mashele asked what had been done to ensure the inclusion of data relating to cases where case dockets went missing. She commented that representatives of the Department of Police should have been invited to attend this briefing.

Ms Abrahams answered that after approximately six months of extensive investigations around missing dockets, the search for these dockets was abandoned. The Medical Research Council (MRC) had requested an opportunity to brief the Portfolio Committee on Police on its research findings, but had been told that meeting with this Committee would be more effective.

Ms D Robinson (DA) asked what whether there were any figures around the number of women who were murdered as a result of their sexual orientation, particularly as members of the police force generally lacked adequate knowledge around these matters.

Ms Robinson asked how the number of murders with sharp objects such as knives could be reduced.

Ms Robinson noted that South African families were in distress and Government would need to address this, for example, by providing social workers, improving mental healthcare and by supporting young mothers.

Ms H Lamoela (DA) asked whether the Child Protection Register was updated regularly. She wondered if the lack of social workers contributed to an increased murder rate, and whether the systems currently in place were speaking to each other effectively. She asked whether the names of people found not to be suitable for caring for children should automatically be transferred on to the Child Protection Register. 

Ms Mathews answered that the Child Protection Register was not adequately maintained, and agreed that the automatic transfer of names here should be looked into as a matter of urgency. Most social workers were not able to meet their obligations around the needs of children and families in need. There was an urgent need to look at ways in which to free up social workers from merely executing administrative work, such as grant applications.

Ms P Petersen-Maduna (ANC) asked whether there were any figures around disabled women and children as well as pensioners.

Ms Abrahams answered that disability in these instances would have been picked up by the researchers. The MRC was aware that there was a significant gap in the availability of such information.

Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) asked what the reasons were for the higher homicide rate among male children.

Ms Abrahams answered that violence was a contributory factor to the fact that men generally died at a younger age than women, although this was not the sole cause.

Ms C Mosimane (COPE) asked why the research had only looked at the year 2009, and whether there were figures for 2012.

Ms Abrahams answered that this was due to the fact that research of this nature took two years to complete.

The Chairperson asked whether the findings had any correlation with the fact that there were fewer men at an older age. He wondered if homicides could be attributed to the high stress levels found in society currently.

Ms Abrahams answered that although this could not be said with certainty, it had been found that South Africans generally tended towards using violence as a means of conflict resolution. A major contributing factor here was that boys were, from an early age, taught to assert their masculinity through violence.

The Chairperson said that the Committee appreciated the efforts of the MRC in conducting this research, as well as the valuable information this research had yielded. There were many areas of weakness, particularly around policing, where corruption, mismanagement and a general lack of knowledge needed to be addressed. The Committee would also need to look into whether health services were effective, how to improve family planning and reduce substance abuse.

The meeting was adjourned.

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