Violence and murder of children: DSD (with Minister) & DoJ&CD briefing

Social Development

22 February 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mvana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee received briefings from the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development on violence and the murder of children.

Minister Lindiwe Zulu said a series of studies continued to demonstrate that child-targeted violence caused trauma, reduced cognitive capabilities, impaired development, and led to dysfunctional social relations, limited economic participation and the viciousness of others amongst its victims. Early ongoing and repetitive abuse and assault, such as sexual abuse, was one of the factors contributing to the social ills which engulfed South African society. She emphasised that a lot of "un-learning" needed to take place within the communities.

Members raised concerns over the high levels of violence against children, and stressed that more needed to be done to raise awareness and educate children, parents and communities on their rights and responsibilities when it came to protecting children and preventing teenage pregnancies. It was worrying that more social workers needed to be employed, yet many remained unemployed. The Committee suggested that the DSD have a general call centre that could direct people on where to access services such as shelters.

Members also raised issues relating to human trafficking and children who were being sold on social media platforms. They pointed out that the Department did not pay 140 non-profit organisations that offered child protection services and assisted abused women, and some had run out of funds and were forced to shut down. The Committee stressed that there needed to be more educational programmes in schools on how to obtain protection orders. Members were concerned about the high number of children who were in jail for murder and sexual offences, as well as rapists who were granted bail and perpetrated the same crime again. There was concern about the safety of children in schools, and how child victims of sexual violence were removed from schools while the perpetrator remained in a teaching position. The Department was also not providing financial support to those caring for children in places of safety.

The Committee urged the Minister to address issues relating to taxi violence and the children who were affected by this. Some children had been seriously injured in road accidents involving taxis attempting to avoid traffic. The Committee wanted more information on the number of cases filed on child abuse and neglect by teachers and principals. It also raised its concern over a programme called "You Only Live Once," which had been allocated R635 million, but they had not seen the programme running.

The DSD said it would provide the Committee with more information on its educational programmes in the various constituencies. It also committed to improving its communication and reporting, and would strengthen its efforts to educate children and communities on protecting children. It would encourage them to take responsibility and become much more involved in the growth and development of children.

Meeting report

Minister's opening remarks

Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, said a series of studies continued to demonstrate that child-targeted violence causes trauma, reduced cognitive capabilities, impaired development, dysfunctional social relations, limited economic participation and the viciousness of others among its victims. Early ongoing, repetitive abuse and assault, such as sexual abuse, was one of the factors contributing to the social ills which engulfed South African society. A lot of "un-learning" needed to take place within the communities. The data suggested that South African children were exposed to high levels of violence, child-targeted violence, neglect, abuse and assault.

She was of the view that all of society should rally behind the phenomenon that resulted in 17 488 children being victims of abuse and neglect, according to the Department of Social Development’s (DSD's) child protection register. Children could not be left prey in a society reconstructing itself toward recovery for everyone, including children. 2023 was the year for decisive action to advance society, and children should be among the first to benefit.

She assured the Committee that the Department’s programmes were evidence-based and results-focused. The approach was followed through on the national plan for gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF). The programme of action emphasised child advocacy, and the Department was working closely with its key child protection partners and others in civil society and academia. At the heart of government's strategy was to protect children from violence, child abuse and neglect. To this end, the Department would continue to maximise its efforts toward social mobilisation. The protection of children must be dealt with -- house to house, street to street and community to community.

She concluded that the Department should also focus on working together with other departments to end violence against children.

DSD and DOJ on violence and murder of children

Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director-General (DG), DSD, and Ms Isabella Sekwana, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): Social Welfare Services, made a presentation to the Committee on violence and the murder of children in relation to the DSD mandate, providing the context, statistics and impact of the Department's interventions and programmes.

The Department reported that violence against children and gender-based violence issues have been called the country’s second pandemic and have reportedly worsened during and post the COVID-19 hard lockdown. The scourge of violence against children in South Africa continues to have a negative impact on children and families and the rates of abuse are at an alarming rate, with specific reports of deaths of children allegedly happening at the hands of parents and caregivers.

According to the DSD Child Protection Register: 17 488 reported cases of child abuse and neglect with Western Cape leading with 6 941 cases, followed by Gauteng with 3 104 cases and KwaZulu-Natal with 3 065 cases reported.

The Department funds NPOs through provincial equitable share to implement the programmes. A total of 42 NPOs are currently funded to implement the programme in eight provinces, except Western Cape province. There has been a significant positive impact in communities where the programmes are implemented.

The Department conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the programmes and the findings showed an increase in knowledge post the programme implementation which led to positive behaviour change outcomes.

[Refer to presentation slides for details].  

Adv Praise Kambula, Chief Director: Vulnerable Groups, Department of Justice (DOJ), gave a presentation on the DOJ's mandate, its programmatic interventions and their impact.

The mandate of DoJ&CD is to safeguard the constitutional rights of all persons living in South Africa, and most importantly, provide an accessible justice system for all, including children. The Department established the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS), which is a national repository of cases captured from our lower courts, mainly to monitor the life cycle of each case and also determine the effectiveness of the justice system. The Department is currently upgrading the ICMS to incorporate additional data metrics, which will include different age categories of children as victims of murder and other violent crimes.

The Department took the Committee through legislation enhancing the protection of children.

The Department reported that 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser.

The Department is finalising the development of the Femicide Watch: A National Repository for GBV- Related Femicide Cases, which include child femicide cases

Challenges and takeaways

  • The three GBV Amendment Acts create a more child-centric criminal justice system;
  • The ICMS: Criminal does NOT have data metrics for child victims, which is a lacuna being addressed. For this reason, the Department cannot provide statistics on child homicide cases. The Criminal Module is being upgraded.
  • The age of a perpetrator of sex crimes is getting younger in SA. As at 31 Dec 22, out of 136 children charged with sexual offences, 105 were charged with rape;
  • Victim support services often increase the effectiveness of child witnesses in court; hence the conviction rate in sex crimes reported at TCCs linked to Sexual Offences Courts is registered at 75.1%, as reported by NPA
  • The Femicide Watch dashboard provides data for femicide cases involving child victims;
  • All social workers, probation officers, shelter workers, and other DSD officials working at service points that give them access to children and other vulnerable persons must be vetted against the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO). Failure to do so amounts to a punishable offence;
  • DSD Social workers are encouraged to provide intermediary services to our courts, particularly in the Children’s Courts.
  • The Department appreciates the consistent support received from DSD in all intersectoral engagements.

[Refer to presentation slides for details].  


(Some discussions and responses were inaudible due to loadshedding connection challenges).

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) said the most vulnerable children were being failed, and the levels of violence should keep everyone up at night. It painted a very dark picture of where they were as a nation. How far had they gone in their talks with National Treasury and other departments on absorbing social workers? She really felt that one of the most important access points for children who were in danger or in a home situation where they were scared and abused, was to know that they were able to access a social worker or teacher at school who could help them. When one spoke of the crisis of teenage pregnancies and the fact that it had risen by 60%, if a child had access to a social worker, then maybe one could start to address some of these issues.

She referred to a central hub to access information, and said that people did not know where to access information. The DSD had mentioned having a general call centre -- what were the developments on this? There should be a number to call for guidance on where to access a shelter. She referred to a WhatsApp group she was part of, where people were assisting women and children who were victims of violence, and said that it was always very puzzling on the aspect of where to access the requisite services. A system that was agile in a country where violence against women and children was so endemic was needed.

She said children were victims of human trafficking, and currently, some individuals were selling children on Facebook. She had seen a post where a child who was recently born was being sold for R15 000, and much interest had been generated by the post. They needed to focus on social media. Various government department’s needed to take this into consideration and come up with a plan on how to address this.

Non-profit organisations (NPOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were very important. They provided help to children and women who have been abused. Still, there was currently a crisis in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal where, as of February, 140 NPOs offering child protection services and looking after women and children in need had not been paid. These organisations had run out of money and were forced to close. Why were they continuously struggling with the funding of NGOs, and why were they paying them late, and what could they do to solve this problem?

She asked about how online applications for protection orders were made, how this platform could be accessed, and whether the DOJ was educating children on this in schools. This information should be made available in all schools. How were South Africans being educated on using this platform and was it being used? One often heard about protection orders being issued and not enforced or women having protection orders, but who had been killed. Another issue was rapists being granted bail. Was it a directive that people who had committed sexual crimes should not be granted bail? She had just read that the Pinetown Magistrates Court had just granted bail to a 38-year-old man who had raped his daughter. She asked for clarity on this. Had the DSD developed and issued national directives? If not, why not? Were there any departments which were already implementing these directives?


Adv Kambule said the online process of obtaining a protection order did not rule out obtaining one physically. Individuals seeking a protection order could go to court or they could send an email requesting one. The online web portal helped to file a protection order, and this information remained in the system. Online applications received responses faster, as there was a magistrate and clerk of the court who were on standby. Obtaining a protection order online would reduce queues. If one had an interest in the complainant, or circumstances made it difficult for the complainant to obtain a protection order, someone else could apply for the protection order on behalf of the victim without their written consent.

One piece of legislation took effect from 31 December 2022 -- the Cyber Crimes Act -- which also included pornography, nude pictures and videos, and malicious communication. The Domestic Violence Act also included an electronic provision which had been sent to service providers. In this case, the magistrate could request that such messages or information be released by service providers. This aimed to enhance the protection of victims.

The Department was constantly working on improving public education. It also had a radio talk show which covered over 70 radio stations, such as community radio stations. The programme was interactive, and listeners could ask questions and receive answers at the same time. The show ran from 6-7pm while everyone was at home. The DOJ had established a task team to develop a category of crimes. This was one of the resolutions received from the Presidential Summit.

Section 35 in the Constitution referred to a myriad of rights of the arrested, detained and accused person, but was silent on the rights of the victim. Some rights were shared improperly by the accused and the victim. The Victim’s Charter could not be enforced, and in response there was the Victim Support Services Bill. An accused could come to court and state that they had a right to be granted bail. Changes had been made, where police were prevented from granting accused persons bail before they had appeared in court. In circumstances where there was a domestic relationship between the partners, the court must ensure a protection order was in place before bail was granted.

On the budgets of NPOs being cut or increased, Mr Mchunu said NPOs were used as an implementing arm, and the DSD could not make a call on this. The DSD would continue to advocate for additional funding for NPOs. It had a budget of R8.2 billion a year, which was quite modest, without taking into account aid from development partners, but the DSD did not foresee a reduction in the budget.

Ms A Abrahams (DA) said over 45 minutes had been spent dealing with technical glitches, and asked that the Committee meets in person.

She shared two experiences of the previous evening and the morning. She said taxi drivers were holding children, parents and even early childhood development (ECD) learners hostage, who needed to make use of their services. She was aware that the Department was not the custodian of ECD learners anymore, but they still fell under the Children’s Act, and she hoped that the Minister would address the issue. In the morning, she had received a call that two children had been knocked down by a taxi in the yellow lane where the taxi was not meant to be driving, but had done so in an attempt to avoid traffic. The children had survived, but were seriously injured. At 21:30 the previous evening, she had received a call about a child who did not return from school, and was later found at 23:00, a few suburbs away from his home, with two other children. Two of the children’s parents reported this to the South African Police Service (SAPS), and one of the children’s mothers had no idea her child was missing.

She asked whether the correct people were brought into the programmes by the DSD, because often, the children who were experiencing the abuse and neglect were isolated and removed from society. How were children and parents being identified to attend these programmes? The content of all these programmes was not known. Were the amendments to the GBV laws discussed in these programmes, including their rights, as well as the new laws?

She asked if the budgets for NPOs would be cut in the current year and if the budget would be increased for social workers and community workers? If the budget was cut, this meant there would be fewer social and community workers on the ground. What was the status on "Safety Parents," and was there a sufficient amount of them? Were individuals still signing up for this? Was there a way for the DSD and DOJ to get information on the number of cases filed on child abuse and neglect by teachers and principals, and was a record kept of this? Was the function left to local government to include their ward representative for social development in education programmes?

She asked whether the Department could have a conversation with the SAPS about the men who had protection orders against them and what programmes were being run to include these men to break the cycle of violence. One often heard of protection orders issued and men still committing egregious crimes. She asked about behavioural change programmes, and the Western Cape government not funding any of these programmes. It was her understanding that funds given for HIV and AIDS programmes had conditions attached to them, and these conditions were that the funds were meant for addressing GBV and were thus allocated to NPOs dealing with GBV. This was the reason why there were no behavioural change programmes. How did other provinces get around the National Treasury conditional grant, and not change programmes?

Had the DDG for Social Welfare been appointed yet? The DOJ had said it was working on the Integrated Correctional Management System (ICMS) system for capturing child murders -- when would this be complete? Had national directives been given to the Department, and when could the Committee see it? There were over 26 000 public schools which were lacking capacity. She felt enough children were not being reached in the public school system.

She would submit the rest of her questions to the Department in writing. She submitted a written question last year on the number of child abuse cases and conviction rates, and the response was very low. Out of 3 697 criminal cases against parents and caregivers, only 35 people had been imprisoned by the year end. The response also indicated that a significant number of the cases had been withdrawn. These children’s names and details were in the court record before the cases were withdrawn, and she asked whether there were follow-ups on such cases to hand over to Social Development. This just meant that the children were still living with their abusers. She asked whether booklets were handed out in schools for children to know their rights and responsibilities. Damaged children become damaged adults, and it felt like they were fighting a losing battle. This was an issue they needed to keep tabs on throughout the year.

Dr Charmain Badenhorst, Director: Child Justice and Family Law, DOJ, said that decisions to withdraw cases against persons accused of child abuse were within the mandate of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The reasons were provided only in the docket. Legislation required that the clerk of the court must inform the Department of Social Development -- more specifically, the Child Protection Registrar -- who must create a record for the DSD about these children. This allowed these children to be monitored and receive the necessary intervention.

Regarding the number of children reported to be abused or neglected by school principals and teachers, Section 110 of the Children’s Act placed a responsibility on various functionaries such as social workers or doctors, to report cases to the police or the Department of Social Development. The Children’s Court must then conduct an inquiry into whether the child needed care and protection.

The DSD said social workers were capacitated to implement the three GBV laws, as capacity building workshops which highlighted the implications of the amendments to the GBV laws, had been conducted in the nine provinces,. The GBV command centre was a national line, and all nine provinces were able to access a social worker. The GBV command centre also provides psychosocial assistance to victims. Substance abuse was an issue, as there were many drug lords in their communities. An integrated plan was needed to address the issues of alcohol and drug abuse. There was poor regulation when it came to alcohol. This was the drug of choice for young people, who then moved on to harder drugs.

Mr Mchunu said the DSD would continue to participate in the integrated transversal hubs of the criminal justice system. This would force departments to work together and process things much more quickly. The DSD encouraged the Committee to bring departments together to see the entire value chain.

He referred to the DSD providing social workers for intermediary services, and said that in 2008 Cabinet had decided that other departments could also employ social workers. Provinces should be called to the Committee to account. Some provinces did not customise, which prevented the Department from working on reports. In 2021, the National Treasury had been very specific on the conditional grants allocated, and the Western Cape had not utilised the funds as intended. When crimes took place in communities, members of the community remained quiet and were therefore equally guilty and responsible.

Ms P Marais (EFF) was also concerned about time constraints. She said 250 men had gone to Parliament to discuss GBV issues, but none was present in GBV programmes. She referred to a programme called "You Only Live Once" (YOLO), and the R635 million allocated to the programme. She had not seen this programme running, and wanted clarity on this. On creating safer spaces for children and preventing HIV and teenage pregnancies, she asked about the programmes running on this, and how children were being educated on this.

On the rape cases at schools, sometimes children were removed from the schools, but the teachers who were perpetrators remained. Principals tended to cover up for teachers. There was a need to look at how they could create safer spaces for children, as the child should not have been removed in this instance, because she did nothing wrong. She had read about a 60-year-old teacher who had raped a nine-year-old girl. It had been said that there was no bail in rape cases where the children were under 16 years old, but they had seen cases where men got bail and went out and raped again.

Many children were removed from their mothers because the mother’s partner was abusing them. The child was then left in a place of safety for two or three months, and then removed to another place of safety. Such caregivers were not given any financial support from the Department. She said it was disturbing that 112 children were in prison, and 106 were sex offenders. How could a child rape and murder another child? Something was definitely wrong, and looking at all the statistics in the presentation, what did the term “other” encompass relating to the statistics? Social workers remained unemployed, and it was alarming that these issues were being discussed, but nothing was being addressed.

The Department of Social Development said a report had been issued on the online safety of children, and it was responsible for implementing it. One key engagement was the education and awareness of parents and caregivers to help prevent online abuse of children and trafficking. The intention was to intensify education and awareness. The Department had been assisted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with a model for a national response and implementation.

The Department took the protection of children seriously, and invested in education programmes for parents. Referral pathways must be clearly defined, and communities need to report when such incidences occur.

Child ambassadors in nine provinces were empowered to engage with their peers. Such engagement also took place during the Children’s Parliaments. This would ensure that children were empowered to understand the rights and existing laws for their protection. There were "Safety Parents" across provinces who could sign up to be recognised. A fee was paid to parents who had children in their care whilst awaiting finalisation of court proceedings. There were names of principals which had been submitted to the National Child Protection Register. Outcomes were received from disciplinary forums on teachers and their misconduct with children. The South African Council for Educators (SACE) submits the names of teachers to the National Child Protection Register. The DSD only receives convictions, which were Form 25 and 28, but it did not receive information on cases withdrawn. SAPS and the DOJ must inform the DSD of cases withdrawn and where there was no conviction. On the imprisonment of children committing sexual offences and those who were the victims of sexual offences, the DSD had a programme to empower social workers to assist victims.

As the DSD did education and awareness, it also communicated online and offline methods to assist parents and caregivers.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) asked whether girls and boys were together when talks were given to educate children. If they stuck to what they had been taught in the olden days, it would not show an impact on the communities. The departments were working in silos, and if the Department of Health did not neglect primary health care, this may also have assisted the DSD in education, preventing teenage pregnancies, and coordinating all the ills in society. She asked the DSD if it could work closely with the Health Department, as the programme was similar to what it used to do in the olden days. How were the online protection orders done, and how could someone get this?

Ms A Hlongo (ANC) said the programmes and systems were on paper, but a lot was wrong. She may know of a YOLO programme, but society does not. When there were protests, classes were stopped and children were not protected from this. She referred to a child kidnapping case where a perpetrator was given bail at R5 000. "We say it takes a village to raise a child, but in our communities, a 15-year-old stay with a man and nobody reports this. You would find 15-year-old children in clubs and giving birth." She had heard a Member of the Executive Council (MEC) in Limpopo saying that these mothers would leave the hospital without knowing the child's father, as it was often an older man. The laws protecting children were good on paper, but were not carried out properly.

Substance abuse was an issue and alcohol and drugs were sold to the youth without this being reported by community members. A 19-year-old woman’s body had been dumped by her 38-year-old partner. The Department of Social Development should aim to educate children at schools. There was a need to inform society and provide relevant information on the DSD's website. Members of the public were often asking when social workers would be employed, and this should be addressed. The Department must approach communities directly and be on the ground to address people on the issues facing society. Sometimes when people were angry about service delivery issues, they reported this to councillors. Not enough funding was available for home-based care and job incentives.

Ms Marais also raised concerns over child victims of sexual violence who did not receive any counselling and adequate services from police who were handling the case. Social workers were also not following up on such cases, and perpetrators were never held accountable.

The Chairperson said that the shortage of social workers was worrying, as they were required to assist communities. There should be awareness workshops, and these should include Members of Parliament.

She asked for information on the Child Ambassador in the Eastern Cape.

Mr Mchunu said he had noted the concerns of Members and the lack of information on programmes in constituencies. The Department would provide this information to the Committee. A significant amount of work was being done across the country, and if there were more resources in the form of human and financial capacity, much more could be done. The DSD had committed to improving its communication and reporting. One of the key issues was community awareness and education, and the Department would continue to strengthen its efforts on this. Families should be much more involved in the growth and development of their children, and be less dependent on the government and educational institutions.

Some questions posed by Members would be responded to in writing.

The Chairperson thanked all present in the meeting for their engagement.

The meeting was adjourned.

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