AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit says it is concerned with the handling of child abuse cases by law enforcement officials. This follows a string of complaints it has received regarding sexual assault and abuse cases against children, as young as seven months old, which have been thrown out of court.
The unit is currently involved in four cases of this nature which have been withdrawn in the Brits Magistrate Court in the North West.
Pauli Van Wyk runs a place of safety in Brits. She works with sexually assaulted and physically abused children, mostly by their parents and immediate families. Her attempts at getting justice for these children have been unsuccessful with most cases she’s brought forward being dropped by the NPA.
“One day I didn’t answer the phone and they wanted to lock me up because I didn’t answer the phone. We were for two and a half years in this big fight to protect this little girl. The matter is not on the roll anymore, so the perpetrator is a free man. It is heartbreaking,” says Van Wyk.
AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit has stepped in to help get justice for the minors. It has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions demanding a speedy re-enrollment of prosecution of four child abuse cases that have been thrown out of court in the Brits Magistrate Court.
They include a six-year-old, who was allegedly allowed to be raped in exchange for payment by her mother and grandmother; a seven-month-old who suffered injuries after his mother admitted to putting him in a freezer for crying too much; a two and a half-year-old whose mother admitted she was sexually assaulted by her father and a five-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather.
The unit’s advocate Gerrie Nel says the justice department needs to start prioritising these matters.
“If yourself as a child of three years old, something happens to that child of three years old, something happens to that child yesterday, three years from now what can that child remember; and how can that child three years from now withstand cross-examination. We have to speed these cases, we have to prioritise these cases and We have to do more than pay lip service, do big conferences where everybody talks,” says Nel.
High levels of violence and abuse against children remain an area of concern. While the children’s court is available to deal with such crimes, child and family lawyer, advocate Sylna Neuland, says they often further torment the victims.
“What bothers me in these cases on the civil side is, as much as we tell children to please if something happens to you tell a grown-up, come for help, open your mouth, don’t keep it to yourself. When they do they are turned into villains of the story. They are taken to be assessed over and over again. They are torn from homes where they do feel safe with foster parents. they are placed back with biological parents. We struggle to keep the child’s best interest in mind,” says Neuland.
According to the South African Police Service crime statistics, 943 children were murdered and more than 24 000 were sexually assaulted in the 2019/2020 financial year.