A culture of silence and “staying out of it” in South Africa means that too many children suffer alone—often fatally.
We’ve all heard the sounds of a child screaming. But what do you do if you suspect that your neighbour or relative’s child is being abused—or your child’s friend for that matter?
Abuse and neglect are one of the number 1 causes of injury to children in the country. More children die of abuse and neglect than of natural causes. Most abuse happens in a child’s home.
According to the latest crime statistics, in the 3 months between October 2022 – December 2022
- 319 children were murdered
- 488 survived attempted murder
- 2,039 children were victims of physical assault in South Africa.
The South African statistics show on average 28 children are violently assaulted every day, of whom three don’t survive the attack. Sadly, statistics has looked year after year for the past 10 years.
Children rarely disclose abuse.
A child may never tell anyone they are being abused and there a many reasons for this:
- They feel too embarrassed or humiliated to talk about it – especially in cases of sexual abuse.
- They are so confused by the adult’s actions, that they do not realise what is happening is wrong.
- They might be threatened by the adult to keep quiet.
- They do not have the vocabulary to explain what happened to them.
- The child might be led by the adult to think it is their fault, they did something wrong.
- Recognising abuse may be especially difficult for someone who has lived with it for many years.
To abuse, someone is not normal and is never okay. Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it. No one should live in fear of the person they love.
It is still abuse, even if your incident seems minor to what you have seen around you, or you have just been injured once or twice, or the abuse stopped because you just became passive and did not fight it anymore.
Corporal punishment in South Africa
Corporal punishment is explained as “a practice to correct children’s behaviours by imposing physical force to cause pain, but not injure” [Straus, M. A., Donnelly, M. (2009). In an article in the Daily Maverick, a journalist Omphemetse S Sibanda describes it as ”spanking, slapping, shoving, yanking, kicking, beating (leaving a mark), hitting (not leaving a mark) ear twisting, violent shaking, pinching, paddling (striking the buttocks with a wooden paddle) and many others”. The Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled in September 2019 that corporal punishment is illegal in South African homes. It makes it unlawful to hit a child in South Africa.
Fast facts about child abusers:
Abusers have common characteristics and are in control of what they are doing.
- They usually abuse people close to themselves – their loved ones.
- They save the abuse for when they are alone with their victims.
- They can start and stop their abusive behaviour as they want.
- They will aim their abuse at places on the victim’s body where it won’t easily show – for example, hitting you on your head.
- They feel guilty about what they have done, although they are more scared of being exposed and caught.
What does physical child abuse look like?
- Bruises on uncommonly injured body parts
- Bite marks
- Discolouration of skin
- Blunt instrument marks
- Human hands marks
- Injuries to face and extremities
- Evidence of failure to thrive
- High incidence of accidents
- Shaken baby syndrome: This type of abuse occurs when someone forcefully shakes a baby or is much too rough when handling a baby. This is the most common way that a young child becomes seriously brain injured or dies as a result of abuse.
Emotional abuse of children:
is any type of abuse that involves the continual emotional mistreatment of a child.
- Constant criticism
- Withholding love, support or guidance
- Making a child feel unwanted
How can emergency care workers identify child emotional abuse?
- that shuns a parent or caregiver’s affection
- who is excessively clingy
- who is angry or depressed or any extremes in behaviour
- who were outgoing and assertive who became unusually compliant and passive
- who was generally mild, who now acts in a demanding and aggressive manner
- who becomes less talkative, stops communicating almost completely, or displays signs of a speech disorder such as stuttering.
- that reverts to rocking and head-banging
- that becomes overly protective towards other children
- who regresses and develops a speech disorder or stuttering
- A child with delayed development for example learning to walk or talk
- Inappropriate emotional development
- with vague psycho-somatic complaints like headaches or tummy aches
- who repeatedly says ”mommy says I am bad” and truly believes it.
How does a child ”hide” abuse?
- Conceals injuries with clothing
- Don’t like physical contact or touching
- Gives explanations of injuries that don’t add up
- Is often ‘sick’ or absent from school
- Is frightened of caregivers
- Difficult child – doesn’t get along with other kids
- Displays anger and hostility in playing
- Do not want to go home after school
- Has a history of running away from home
- I have the right to a loving and caring family, a proper safe, and comfortable home, clothing, and healthy food.
- I have the right to be told the house rules of where I live.
- As a child, I should not be forced to work.
- I have the right to an education suitable to my aptitudes and abilities.
- I have the right to a say in my care, and any changes to how I am cared for, according to my age & maturity.
- I have the right to get special care for special needs.
- I have the right to be protected from hurt.
- I have the right to good health care if I am sick and to be kept away from cigarettes, alcohol & drugs.
- I am a real person and have a right to be treated properly.
- I have the right to be taken seriously and to make mistakes.
- I have the right to my religion and culture.
- I have a right to my name and my nationality.
- I have the right to be treated the same, no matter what my colour, race, gender, language, or religion.
- I have the right to be proud of my heritage and beliefs.
- I have the right to speak and be heard.
- I have the right to send and receive private mail that is not read or opened by others.
- I have the right to privacy.
- I have the right to own my things.
- I have the right to speak and visit in private with my family or any other person like my big friend, a person representing me like my social worker, or my lawyer.
- I have a right to a lawyer in courtrooms and hearings affecting my future.
- I have a right to live in a nice place and not be put in prison or a police cell.
- I have the right to know what my rights are.