What should government be doing more of to improve the lives of children who experience sexual offences?
The unanimous reply:
There needs to be specialised training for officials who deal with children, from the SAPS to magistrates and social workers. All departments failing to provide children’s services must be held accountable to government.
Court processes need to be adapted to the various stages of children’s cognitive and emotional development and court officials trained to communicate with children in a manner they will understand. The law needs to be more supportive of child victims or child witnesses, in the form of state-supplied counselling services.
There should be dedicated courts for children’s cases. These did exist but have been removed. Lengthy delays and postponements cause secondary victimisation in children, who often don’t understand legal technicalities or the reasons for repeated court appearances.
Children would benefit if there was more consultation with organisations that work with children to determine what children’s needs are.
Children require better service delivery, in the form of better equipped courts, healing services and support for children who are at risk in families – it is now mandatory to report child abuse but children in abusive situations are currently not offered any kind of support services, Social workers need to be appointed to follow up these cases.
What government shouldn’t be doing for children:
Campaigns which hand out free t-shirts and water-bottles are a waste of resources.
The SAPS is expected to reduce sexual offences, but this is highly impractical – sexual offences are a social problem, not a policing problem. The SAPS needs better equipment and training to investigate cases properly.
Sexual offenders shouldn’t be tolerated in society, serial offenders shouldn’t be paroled.
Services should not be duplicated in certain areas; there is a lack of oversight about real needs in communities. There needs to be more consultation with people at grassroots level.
Some suggestions around the prevention of sexual offences in children’s lives
Child protection is an adult responsibility – adults need education about child protection, in the form of parenting programs.
Programs aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy would reduce the suffering of children, and help their teenage parent, who is still a child herself.
Children need to be taught Inter-personal relationship skills at school: sensitivity towards each other, animals and their environment needs to be prioritised in Life Skills classes.
Arts, sports and recreational centres offering training and courses, need to be provided to all communities. If adults have constructive social activities, as an alternative to recreational drinking, children wouldn’t bear the brunt of alcohol fuelled misbehaviour. Children would also benefit from learning alternate behaviours in communities where recreational drinking is the norm.