Child Protection Week: Just Another Round of Empty Promises?

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Joan van Niekerk – Childline

“There are campaigns, and then there are campaigns….” sighs Joan van Niekerk, Childline’s national training and advocacy manager. “Some of them end up exploiting the exploited.”

Tough talk perhaps, but something that Joan feels strongly about.

“Let’s be honest: we have campaigns that government uses as a political platform, like the 16 Days campaign. Often the only benefit to women and children is that they might get a cap or a t-shirt at the event. It begins and ends there. They might be a good platform for politicians to win votes, but all these flag-waving and t-shirt wearing events are not effective – what do they achieve for women and children?”

She points out that South Africa has been running these campaigns for years, but that levels of violence have in fact risen and that this should be a matter of grave concern.

“The problem is that violence has been ineffectually dealt with. Service delivery has continued to deteriorate on every front. Where people can commit violence without consequences, violence will continue to escalate.”

For Joan, campaigns need to move beyond nice words and soothing slogans – they have to be backed up by some substance.

She gives the example of a series of workshops she has been running across the country around child protection ahead of the World Cup. At every workshop, wherever she goes the participants tell her that they can counsel and refer children, but these children will get no service from the police or government social workers.

“Even the children themselves phone our helpline to complain about the government social workers. It is terrible to refer children to people that do not help them.”

And it is this intersection between state services and NGOs that causes Joan the biggest headaches. Each year Childline works with government on the Child Protection Week campaign, which aims to remind everyone in the country of the responsibility we all share to protect children. But says Joan, “the NGOs do all the work and it becomes a platform for government ministers to stand on and talk about all the work government is doing, without acknowledging that most of that work is actually done by NGOs.” She explains that unlike in other sectors, the government does not purchase services from NGOs but merely subsidizes them, leaving them to make up the shortfall.

In this light, says Joan the huge rallies and mass events are particularly distasteful – not just because they are a waste of resources, but also because they can actually be dangerous for children.

“Let’s stop these huge events where children are put at risk – like the time children drowned at Zoo Lake. We should use Child Protection Week to go into schools and do more creative and productive work around rights and responsibilities. A bunch of politicians standing on a stage talking about child pornography goes right over children’s heads. But the politicians continue to do it because it’s a good media opportunity.”

Joan feels it would be far more useful to make service provision the focus of the Child Protection Week campaign. “Lets, just for one year, focus inward instead of outward. Instead of spending that week telling children to report – when we know the system does not work and that if they are not helped they will not report again – let’s look at how to get services functional again. Currently there is ever-increasing bureaucratization, no accountability and a lack of recipient-focused service.”

She also believes there is a need to start doing more work with men. “Obviously, men are not the only one who abuse but they are a significant factor. We can no longer continue to deal with only one side of the violence equation.”

Joan feels the Shukumisa campaign might just be a break from campaigning as usual – mostly because it has taken a different approach. “The good thing about it is that no organization claims the platform. It is all about working together and pooling our resources so that 1 + 1 does not equal 2… in this case 1+1 can equal 3 or 4 because the reach is better and the planning is more creative. Joint campaigns where people do not have hidden agendas are actually great!”

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