Be an everyday hero and stop child abuse

High levels of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect of children exist in South Africa. These children are affected emotionally and physically with long-lasting psychological consequences. A recent study found that one in three girls and one in five boys in South Africa experience some form of violence before they turn 18. This article will look at how a child can be protected from child abuse.

What are the basic rights of a child?

  • The Constitution, Children’s Act and Child Justice Act are the basis for a child’s rights and the protection of those rights.  
  • The Children’s Act focuses, amongst other things, on the following:
    • The parental rights and responsibilities between parents and their children, for example, matters relating to care, contact, maintenance and guardianship. This means that every child has a right to be cared for by parents or family, or placed in alternative care if s/he does not have any family.
    • Important rights, which include that every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter and basic health care services, as well as to be protected from maltreatment, neglect and abuse. 
    • The dignity and worth of a child, for example, a child must be treated equally without discrimination.
    • The need for development and growth, for example, a child has a right to be educated. A child also must be able to play and participate in activities that suits his/her age or development ability.
    • A child must be given the opportunity to take part in educational, social, cultural and religious activities.
  • The best interests of the child is the most important factor when dealing with matters relating to children and will always come first. This means that every decision made involving a child must be measured by it.
  • Every child has the right to participate in any matter that concerns his/her well-being and care. However, the child’s age and level of maturity is one of the factors that must be taken into account to establish the weight of the child’s participation.
  • It is important to know that a High court is the supreme guardian of all children.

What are the duties of parents?

  • Parents must protect their child through ensuring that they comply with their duties.
  • The parents of a child have the duty to make financial contributions toward the wellness of the child in order to ensure that the child is properly taken care of (this is also known as maintenance). If one parent fails to contribute financially, the other parent can take legal action by approaching a Maintenance Court for assistance.
  • Both parents of a child also have a duty to take care of the child, for example, to provide the child with a safe home to live in, love, education and food. These are the basic needs for a child to develop.
  • Protecting a child from abuse can also form part of a parent’s duty to care for the child.
  • However, there is generally a duty on every person to report child abuse if s/he has knowledge of a child being abused.

What types of abuse must be reported?

  • Any type of abuse must be reported. There are different types of abuse a child may suffer, for example, if a child is:
    • injured through physical abuse, for example, being hit or punched by someone that leads to a black eye or bruised lip;
    • neglected, for example, physical neglect (such as where a child does not receive food or water) or medical neglect (such as not taking a child to a doctor when s/he child is very sick);
    • sexually abused, for example, where a person has sexual relations with a child, such as rape or any other sexual violation; and/or
    • verbally and emotionally abused, for example, where a child is constantly being humiliated or being threatened with violence.

How can child abuse be reported?

  • If there is a suspicion that a child is being abused, it must be reported to the police (where criminal charges can be brought), a designated child protection organisation or to a social worker at the Department of Social Development.
  • A protection order in South Africa can also be obtained under the Protection from Harassment Act or Domestic Violence Act to prevent a person from abusing a child.
  • Any person can voluntarily report child abuse. A child can also report child abuse without the assistance of his/her parents, however, it is advisable that a child approach a trusted adult for guidance and assistance.
  • The following organisations ensure that children are protected against abuse through getting involved with the community and to deploy volunteers to hold awareness talks, support families, provide training, and investigation:

How can a child be protected from cyber-bullying?

  • With technology and social media taking everyone by storm, a new movement is online abuse, which is also known as cyber bullying. For example, a catfight on Facebook where one child is calling another child ugly names to such a degree that the other child’s dignity is being infringed.
  • Cyber-bullying may lead to a criminal offence, for example:
    • Crimen iniuria, for example, where the dignity of a child is injured, for example, if the child is being teased and humiliated by using improper or racially offensive language.
    • Sexual exploitation and grooming, for example, threatening a child to obtain something from him/her, such as pornographic images.
  • It should be noted that if the bully is a child, there are different criminal procedures that will be followed under the Child Justice Act. For example, if the bully is younger than 10 years old, s/he does not have criminal capacity and cannot be found guilty of a criminal offence. However, this does not mean that s/he will not face the consequences of his/her actions, for example, the bully may be referred to counselling.

Do you have any more questions?

What are the signs of child abuse?

  • A child will not always inform someone about being abused out of fear of being harmed further. This might be due to the abuser being a close relative or family friend.
  • A person might then get knowledge of child abuse by looking out for possible signs, for example:
    • Physical signs, for example, broken bones, head injuries, bruising and lack of nutrition.
    • Changes in behaviour, for example, behaving distant towards friends and family, having obsessions, inappropriate anger, difficulty sleeping, bedwetting or a change in eating habits.

What does it mean if a child is placed in alternative care?

  • It means that a child is placed in foster care, a child- and youth-care centre, or in temporary safe care.
  • A social worker or police officer may remove a child from his/her home and place him/her in temporary safe-care without a court order if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child is being abused or neglected and needs immediate assistance.
  • Removing the child must be the best way to keep the child safe.

What are the best interests of a child?

  • There are different factors that must be taken into account to establish whether the bests interests of a child is being supported, for example:
    • the nature of the personal relationship between the child and his/her parents;
    • the child’s physical and emotional development;
    • whether the child is suffering from any physical or mental disability;
    • whether there are any instances of family violence; or
    • the need to protect a child from any form of abuse or maltreatment.

Can a child get a hiding?

  • In schools, giving a child a hiding is illegal and will amount to physical assault.
  • A recent High Court judgment also held that a parent is not allowed to give his/her child a hiding anymore. This also amounts to physical assault.

When does a child become an adult?

  • The moment a child reaches the age of 18 s/he is an adult and will have all the rights and responsibilities of an adult.

What is the meaning of the High Court being the upper guardian of children?

  • Under certain circumstances, the High Court can go over the rights of a child’s parents or legal guardians.
  • This means that if a parent neglects or places a child in danger, the High Court can also be approached to take away the rights of the parents and place the child in alternative care.
  • However, the Children’s Act established a Children’s Court that can also be approached for assistance.