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 seriously suspected that your neighbour or relative’s child was being abused—or your child’s friend for that matter?
Abuse and neglect are one of the number 1 cause 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.
Am I or was I abused?
People sometimes have trouble recognising that they are being abused. 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 OK. 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 the abuser:
- 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 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
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 – don’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
Reporting child abuse and neglect: What you need to know
- 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.