Strategy to reduce child murders in Western Cape

Social Development (WCPP)

30 July 2019
Chairperson: Mr G Bosman (DA)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee convened to hear about the scourge of child murders in the Western Cape. Various organisations and members of the public made their submissions and voiced their concerns. All the organisations that presented shared the same sentiments and concerns regarding child murders.

The Children’s Institute of the University of Cape Town spoke about the Child Death Review Project. The child murder rate stood at 5.5 per 100 000 children under 18 years in South Africa. 45% of children were killed in the context of child abuse and neglect and almost 74% of fatal child abuse cases were under five years. The study statistics revealed that child homicides were a low priority for police due to the lack of co-ordination between health, police and social services which compromised the outcome of management of child abuse deaths.

Cases reviewed by the Western Cape Child Death Review (CDR) teams in 2018 numbering 1 594 with shockingly 299 stemming from murders. 16% were accidents while 12% remained undetermined. The top ten police stations in the City of Cape Town that recorded child murder cases were Delft (18 cases) followed by Mfuleni (17) and Gugulethu (15). The role of men, in particular the mother’s partner and relatives/known men to the child take on prominent role in the murder of children in the murder of both girl and boy children. One in 10 child murders are associated with rape mainly perpetrated by a known male and mainly a problem affecting girls.

In terms of criminal justice, the National Prosecuting Authority has prioritised child murders since the start of the CDR process. Prosecutorial decisions were now taken sooner and police investigations guided by the NPA are prioritised much earlier than before. It has become evident that there is now speedy finalisation of child death matters.

With the Western Cape Minister present, the Department of Social Development (DSD) provided child death statistics over a five year period.

Non-governmental organisations such as Molo Songolo, Jelly Beanz: Hope for Children, Trauma Centre and Connect Network shared the same concerns about the scourge of child murders in the Western Cape. A young schoolgirl named Aaliyah spoke about the dangers she faces living in Atlantis.

Members sought clarity on the statistics for child killings and what caused the increase in the numbers; whether the department together with stakeholders ran a programme addressing child abuse; measures and plans available to mitigate this as it is clear that there are minimal efforts by SAPS to combat crimes committed against children; whether there is a joint structure where the relevant stakeholders met to discuss issues affecting children; whether there is an inter-departmental approach to prevent child deaths and child abuse; and when did the NPA investigations start on child murders.

The Committee agreed that in its next meeting on child matters, children would be invited to speak for themselves. The Committee would schedule an afternoon session or hold the meeting on the weekend to avoid disrupting children from attending school. The Committee would meet at the earliest convenience to deal with the matter of the Children’s Commissioner.  


Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone and thanked the Department for being able to do a lot of work with a small budget allocation. He noted that school learners were present at the meeting and remarked that they should rather be in school.

Mr Patrick Solomon from Molo Songolo commented that children are a part of the public participation and he did not understand the Chairperson’s comments. If he has a concern about children being present at the meeting during school hours, he should consider their needs and find a way to facilitate their active engagements in these processes to avoid those kinds of comments made at forums like these.

Mr D Mitchell (DA) said that children should be at school during school hours, that is their constitutional right and should not be taken away from them. Whilst we value the input of learners when it comes to learner’s issues, the request should have been made to look at a different time slot. The bottom line remains that children should be at school during school hours and there is no way that can be justified, and the Chairperson raised an important point.

The Chairperson added that children do get invited to come to Parliament but that is done outside school hours. He noted that he purpose of the meeting was to receive briefings from the Department of Social Development on the scourge of child murders in the province. Thus, various organisations were invited to participate in the process and provide some input.

Children’s Institute: University of Cape Town on the Child Death Review Project
Prof Shanaaz Mathews, Director: Children’s Institute at UCT, acknowledged the efforts and inputs by the Child Death Review (CDR) Team of whom some members were absent. The child death data presented came from different mortuaries around Cape Town.

She noted she was involved in the 2013 study on child murders across the country which showed that in 2009 South Africa had over a 1000 child murders with a child murder rate of 5.5 per 100 000 children under 18 years. 45% of children were killed in the context of child abuse and neglect and almost 74% of fatal child abuse cases were under five years. She lamented that the study statistics revealed that child homicides were a low priority for police due to the lack of co-ordination between health, police and social services which compromised the outcome of management of child abuse deaths.

For the first time the team was able to link the proportion of children killed in the context of child abuse. The looked at best practice in other countries, especially high-end income countries and learnt that child death reviews have been implemented for over three decades in those countries. The team did not know if a process like this would work in the country and in 2014 the team piloted child death review teams in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This was done to determine whether CDR could be a mechanism that can work.

[See slide 7 for the CDR process]

Cases reviewed by the Western Cape CDR teams in 2018 numbered 1594 with shockingly 299 stemming from murders. 16% were accidents while 12% remained undetermined. The top ten police stations in the City of Cape Town that recorded child murder cases were Delft (18 cases) followed by Mfuleni (17) and Gugulethu (15). The role of men, in particular the mother’s partner and relatives/known men to the child take on a prominent role in the murder of children in the murder of both girl and boy children. One in 10 child murders are associated with rape mainly perpetrated by a known male and mainly a problem affecting girls.

On the prevalence of violence in South African society, it was noted that large numbers of young men are killed yearly due to gang violence and interpersonal peer on peer violence. This is also driven by social norms promoting the use of violence and the availability of weapons as well as alcohol and drug use.

In terms of criminal justice, the National Prosecuting Authority had prioritised child murders since the start of the CDR process. Prosecutorial decisions were now taken sooner and police investigations guided by the NPA are prioritised much earlier than before. It has become evident that there is now speedy finalisation of child death matters.

Using the CDR process, its data can be used to reduce child murders by identifying hotspots to target interventions for families and children. The modifiable factors through the CDR process can inform prevention strategies.

Mr R McKenzie (DA) asked the department to comment on slide 3 of the DSD presentation on the number of children murdered in five years amounting to 989. The department’s numbers do not match Prof Mathews’ numbers in her presentation. How did the department obtain those numbers? Why was there a discrepancy between 989 and 299 child murders?

Dr Robert Macdonald, Head of Department: Western Cape DSD, replied that the number presented by the department was over five years. The CDR data was used in the presentation. Prof Mathews showed numbers for a single year and the numbers were increasing every year but that will become apparent in the DSD presentation when the numbers are broken down.

Mr McKenzie asked if the 299 child murders were solely for 2008.

Prof Mathews replied that she had not looked at the Department’s presentation and she suspected that there might be differences in some aspects of the presentation. The CDR team started the pilot in 2014 and only looked at the Salt River mortuary but now from 2018 there is full coverage.

Ms A Bans (ANC) referred to slide 7 which identifies the hotspots and those areas are predominantly where you find your poor and the working class. It is in those areas where you find higher numbers of unemployment, poverty and lack of appealing programmes to draw young people away from criminal activities.

The Molo Songolo presentation specifically states who the victims are and where the crimes are most committed. She asked if the department together with stakeholders have a programme that talks to child abuse. What measures and plans are available to mitigate these problems as it is clearly stated that there are minimal efforts by SAPS to combat crimes committed against children. If there is a joint structure where relevant stakeholders meet, how did it miss this and what are the relevant departments doing about it?

Is there an inter-departmental approach to prevent the scourge of child deaths and child abuse, not only for DSD but for other departments such as health and economic development that are linked to this? Why was it missed by the departments dealing with the investigations? When did the NPA driven investigation started? How many successes have been achieved?

Dr Macdonald replied that there is an inter-departmental approach to mitigate the scourge of child murders and the Plan of Action document was distributed to the Members. Hopefully the department will have the opportunity to present it. There is an after-school Game Changer programme which exists and it aims at steering children away from criminal activities. The programme will focus on extra-mural activities, youth-cafes, and other recreational services by Cultural Affairs and Sport. So far we have come close to meeting the targets to roll it out and we would like to see it universally rolled out but that would require substantial resources. The Plan of Action document provides more details on the plans.

There is a safety cluster as well working in this space and there is a lot of overlapping in addressing safety issues in the province.

Adv Bonnie Currie-Gamwo, NPA Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions: Western Cape, said that prosecutor guided investigations (PGI) had been employed by the NPA for several years pre CDR. Traditionally, the NPA waits for the police to bring the case to the NPA and then it prosecutes. However, we found that certain cases including child murders were falling through the cracks and were not getting to the NPA on time and that is why PGI was employed on child murders. When the NPA joined the CDR in 2014 it already had other ways it was utilising for prioritising child murders. When the dockets were furnished, it would ensure that the child murder cases were prosecuted in the High Court not in the lower courts so that the time can be shortened and there were various successes due to that. When the CDR came on board, it was an opportunity to expand PGI to child murders. The NPA sat with SAPS and now a month after a murder has been registered, the NPA would access the dockets and take the case to the High Court. After the CDR came into existence, the success has been phenomenal in the High Court with a success rate of about 90%. The CDR has assisted in fast-tracking the murder cases even murders which the police may not have registered as a murder but as an inquest where the NPA can overrule the police and prosecute as a murder.

The NPA does prioritise these cases and it has its own interventions such as murder projects to ensure that nothing is left unresolved. This includes old cases but the NPA is re-enrolling certain matters back on the court rolls.

Mr McKenzie asked about the role of the NPA in individuals getting bail and early parole. There was a case in his constituency where a child was raped by an uncle and the uncle was granted early parole and placed back in the home where the victim was still residing. Placing that individual back in that home led to a child being raped by the friend of the parolee. If the perpetrator had not been placed back in that home the likelihood of that happening would have been zero. When such individuals get parole is there a role for NPA to play to ensure those perpetrators are not sent back to where the victim resides?

Secondly, he noted Prof Mathews spoke about ‘more support’. He sought clarity on whether there was adequate support from the Department and more resources had been allocated to curb this phenomenon.

Adv Currie-Gamwo replied that unfortunately parole falls under the Department of Correctional Services and the NPA has no hand in those processes and how they unfold. In certain countries there are stricter conditions attached to parolees.

Prof Mathews replied that the resources come from the mercy of the different departments allocating their time and Social Development has allocated a person to coordinate the child death review cases. For us to use the data more effectively it requires the analysis of the data in a manner that is useful. Every case that comes through the CDR team, there is an action taken. The most important question is how we use the data collected from CDR teams to strategize in terms of interventions that should be taken. That role has fallen on the Children’s Institute but we do not always have resources and some of the work she does after hours and during weekends.

Department of Social Development on its analysis of Child Murders in the Western Cape
Dr Robert Macdonald, Head of Department: Western Cape DSD, stated that the DSD presentation was very similar to the previous presentation. A lot of the information has to do with the same data but the only difference is that the data looks at the five year period.

Members agreed to go straight into the discussion.

Mr McKenzie asked now that the Department has the five-year information, what intervention measures have been put in place and  do the programmes speak to that and have they been impactful? Does DSD present this information to fellow stakeholders to attempt to mitigate the escalation of this?

Dr Macdonald replied that there is a child protection system that has the objective to prevent child abuse and child murders and that system has over 36 000 children in alternative care in the province. The children were removed from households that were at high risk for child abuse and murder. The system is there along with the legislation to address the risks discussed today. There has been significant additional capacity which was emphasized when the CDR Panel started and the DSD participated. In the budget, the DSD has added a lot of additional social worker posts in the NGO sector funded by DSD and started putting money in the child programmes to introduce better scrutiny and surveillance of children in high risk communities. DSD also expanded the Isbindi community based child and youth programme where a lot of money was injected. The plan of action is already in implementation and it pulls together everything that DSD is doing, plans on doing and how it can approach other departments to assist where it cannot reach.

As a result, Delft has been the latest area for a community based child and youth programme. The reality is that there are inadequate resources to mitigate this challenge as well as the underlying issues that led to this phenomenon. One area in which DSD has decided to invest in was the social workers to ensure that they are better at identifying when a child is at risk. We have had cases in the past years where the social worker was aware that the child was at risk and the child eventually died. Those kinds of cases can be prevented only if the systems are working properly. Likewise, in the cases of baby-dumping, there are things that can be done to make it easier for mothers who do not know what to do with their children and DSD would rather place the child in someone else’s care who would be able to look after the child. Additionally, the screening of mental health of mothers at clinics is a critical measure and it is something that The Department of Health has implemented. Where the system is more reliant on outside factors such as gang violence which is largely responsible for child murders, hopefully the deployment of the army would assist in this space. Social workers are only there to assist children and facilitate the safety of children.

Across all the other preventative measures, the plan is to continue to expand the Game Changer After School Programme and money has been allocated to that programme even though there are inadequate resources to achieve DSD outcomes.

Ms N BakuBaku-Vos (ANC) asked if the areas with high child murder rates have social workers as well as offices of the department that will render the relevant services. Last week we were told that the Nyanga office would be closed and opened in Gugulethu. There was also another one in Khayelitsha and in Phillipi which was never re-opened. Where is the political will if those offices are being closed?

Secondly, what proactive measures have been introduced to deal with child abuse and murders, instead of being reactive? There are fundamental drivers that need to be addressed. In some areas you find people taking care of children who do not use the SASSA card to provide the necessities for the child. These are some of the incidents that lead to child deaths.

Mr McKenzie said that slide 11 shows massive increases in child murders over the last five years. From a social development perspective, what worked in Worcester and Nyanga to bring those deaths down?  Did DSD analyse those numbers to see where it well and why it improved?

Ms W Philander (DA) asked how the external stakeholders come on board through the existing programmes. How does the NGO sector come to assist DSD in some areas?

Ms BakuBaku-Vos said that there was no mention of the hospital deaths of newly born children as a result of the negligence of nurses. The Department of Health always protects its nurses in that respect and it would really help if DSD looked into those deaths as well.

Ms Sonia Botha, Western Cape Coordinator for Child Health: Department of Health, said that DOH identifies pregnant women at risk and after birth. In 2018 there was a woman who said that she could not cope with the baby and she was placed in a psychiatric institution. However, she ended up killing the baby after she was reunited with the baby. The hospitals are full and there was a time where about 40 babies were abandoned in the hospital. At the Red Cross Hospital there are children that have been removed from the mothers due to abuse and end up staying in hospital. DOH strives to unify the children with the biological family, but they end up being the person who abused the child. Things must be put in place because it is one thing to identify children at risk but then what? We need to look at places of safety such as fostering and putting children that are at risk in safety.

Dr Macdonald responded that he has been personally contacted by the hospital on several occasions to assist with abandoned children at the hospital. The social workers are supposed to do a risk assessment and then make a decision about what to do with the child in relation to the family. Social workers are trained from the perspective that as much as possible the family unit should be kept together so there is always a bias towards re-unification and keeping the family together built into the methodology of social workers. Quite often the state can do more harm than good by taking the child away from the family, so it is a delicate balance. That is why the National Department developed a Safety and Risk Assessment Tool which is now being made mandatory for social workers to use. However, it is onerous but useful. There is a dual challenge for the social workers as the training speaks to the re-unification of families and avoid removing children from their families. At the same time there is the huge case load which means they could be superficial when they have a large number of children they have to place. The Safety and Risk Assessment Tool will be rolled out this year and hopefully it will assist in that space.

Our child protection system is bursting at the seams, there are 36 000 children in foster care and 2 000 in secure care but the secure care is at 115% capacity. The non-secure care centres which are run by the NGO sector funded by DSD are sitting at around 98% capacity. The number of available foster and safety parents is going down. They are in shorter and shorter supply and some of them are sitting with a lot of children to cope with. Social workers as well are sitting with high volumes of cases beyond the 60% threshold. If you look at the factors combined, we are in the same boat as the hospitals.

One of the things DSD has tried to do was to get training for social workers on the alternatives to removal of children. There are mechanisms in the Children’s Act where the Children’s Court can be used to make orders where the parents can go to drug treatment or parenting programme or do certain things for the children. We are trying to encourage social workers to make use of this alternative. The removal of children is the last resort because it can do a lot of harm to children and it costs the state a lot.

The child protection system is designed in a way that the level of intervention is not a one-size-fits-all. The system is doing fairly well given the resources and the social workers at DSD show good will and are over-extending themselves and go beyond their call of duty. As management, it is our duty to ensure that we assist them as much as we can and create an enabling environment.

On the closure of the Nyanga office, it was the SASSA offices that were closed due to armed robberies. These are offices in high risk communities and our staff had guns pulled on them. We have not found a safe place for the office.

We have a footprint of organisations that we fund, about 2200 NGO are funded by Western Cape DSD. The sector forms a big part of the work and they have more flexibility compared to DSD.

On Slide 11, one would see that many of the large increases are from a low base. Wynberg increased to 450 but that translates to 26 cases. Where we had some reductions is generally in places where the case load was massive. Often the numbers are heavily influenced by gang related crimes and activities. DSD knows what works in term of child protection but everything that affects that protection may be outside DSD control.

Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, said that the previous week she had met with the national Minister and the SASSA CEO. When the SASSA office gets robbed, DSD is also affected because the facilities are shared in many instances. Another issue that came up in the meeting was the question of who has access to the SASSA card. We are picking up that more and more children, who should be the beneficiaries, have other family members taking care of them. There will be a road show in the Eastern Cape where SASSA, NDA and DSD will try and pull these issues together. At the next Minmec, this will be a discussion point and she will report back to the Committee in the next meeting.

The Chairperson said that although the Committee encourages public participation, that participation needs to be balanced with the right of children to be at school. If the Committee had known beforehand that children would be invited, the meeting would have been scheduled to take place in the afternoon when children are out of school. Having read through the provincial Plan of Action for the intervention to reduce child murders, the key issues include the role that schools play as safe spaces in having kids in schools. In future, the Committee is very flexible with scheduling its meetings and these can be held in the afternoon to accommodate school learners. Due to time constraints, he asked the presenters to be brief and focus on important points.

Jelly Beanz Hope for Children briefing
Ms Edith Kriel, Director at Jelly Beanz, highlighted that violence against children is the context in which child murders happen. People need to acknowledge that there are a lot of underlying issues pre-child murder. Domestic violence impacts on children and we need to respond when risk factors identified. The lack of resources has been raised too many times but surely there are alternatives that can be explored.

The second point she made was that one child death has a domino effect. It impacts other children as trauma affects how their brains grow. Children who live in violent communities often live in fear and the violence impacts how their brains function. There are children who carry the load of other children who have been murdered in the community.

Molo Songololo briefing on the scourge of child murders
Ms Salome McLeod, Social Worker at Molo Songololo, noted the organisation’s concern that South Africa is a very dangerous place for children. Crime statistics reveal that 985 children had been murdered in 2017/2018 of which 695 were boys and 294 were girls. The Western Cape had the highest number of child killings than any other province. Most victims are non-white children coming from poor families and communities and dysfunctional households. The killers of children were often caregivers, family members, people known to the child, gangsters, partners and neighbours. Underlying causes of child murders are neglect, carelessness, abuse, violence and crime. Substance abuse and gangsterism also contributed.

Molo Songololo proposed that effective parliamentary oversight was much needed to hold key government departments accountable. Security and safety of children must be prioritised through increasing community policing.

A young girl, only identified by her first name, Aaliyah, shared her experiences living in her community in Atlantis. She said kids get murdered – they are neglected and not listened to. Kids walk around at night when they are not supposed.  They know that the gangsters run around at night on the street, but this is also parents’ fault because they allow their children to be out at night.

She also shared her views on access to weapons and that people should not have access to guns without proper training. She walks to and from school and they get exposed to gangsters when they walk through the park. She appealed for transport to be made available for children to assist in reducing their exposure to gang violence.

She commented that teachers also had an important role to play. Often times they do not encourage their learners.

The Chairperson suggested that in the interest of time to shorten the participation of the learners for now and take a resolution to invite the children back and have an engagement with the learners.

The Committee agreed to the proposal.

Connect Network
Ms Loraine Moko, Social Worker at Connect Network, said that the Network represents about 90 NGOs and works with women and children at risk. We are aware that Western Cape is the most dangerous province for children. The Network is more strategy based and focuses on the strategy of a safe community for children. There are about ten communities that are being piloted. This will help create a safe community and ensure that there is staff and a support system. Everything gets thrown to social workers but organisations that work in these communities do so much and they need to be acknowledged, resourced and supported.

The Network assists organisations to unpack what to look out for in creating a safe community. The Network would check which community is most affected and would go to that community to assist it by creating a safe community. The silo mentality among stakeholders is what makes the Western Cape the most dangerous province because everybody is fighting with everybody. All stakeholders need to come together and start working together.

Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture briefing
Ms Valdi Van Reenen-Le Roux, Director at the Trauma Centre, spoke about the Report which will be released later this week produced by the Centre on 1891 children who testified before the four commissioners who chaired the People's Commission of Inquiry into the lack of Child Safety in the Western Cape. It includes the 36 testimonies from different testifiers from the NGO sector and some parents who lost their children. In 2017 we began to record child murders following the 2013 intervention with DSD. The organisation decided to list the children that were murdered but then decided to take proactive involvement. In April 2017, we met with the then Premier and DSD and lobbied for a commission of inquiry into child safety. We also petitioned the Standing Committee about the child murders, and after a long process we were not successful in our bid for a judicial commission of inquiry into child safety. We were told that it would be very costly. The Petitions Committee asked us to meet with the administrators in a meeting chaired by DSD. We asked our partners to allow civil society the opportunity to do a People's Commission of Inquiry. The report will be released in August and this commission reports that the children are very clear on what they want and what they do not want and have made it clear what hampers their safety and how safety must be ensured for them. Children’s safety is a collective responsibility.

There were 17 organisations that lobbied for this. All the organisations are clear on what should be done and the Report would be provided to the Committee to consider.

It was noted that the most neglected child is a child living with disabilities. They testified that they cannot report crimes against themselves to SAPS because there are no interpreters available to assist in processing the case. Children living with disabilities have it the hardest and this needed to change.

The Chairperson advised that in the next meeting on child murders, the Committee would invite children to come and talk to the Committee on their challenges and community issues. The engagement would take place in the afternoon or on a weekend to ensure that children’s school attendance would not be affected.

Mr McKenzie proposed to meet at the earliest possible convenience to speak to the Children’s Commissioner matter. He believed that this matter could not be held up for much longer.

The Chairperson heeded the proposal and advised that he would speak to the programme committee and decide on a day for a meeting.  He highlighted that with regards to the appointment of the Commissioner, the appointment protocol would be followed as per the Act.

The meeting was adjourned.

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