Child Protection Week started on 1 June as is the case every year, government and civil society will undertake advocacy programmes on children’s rights. Worryingly children’s issues and domestic violence are regarded as two different problems that should be kept separate from each other. Children have become forgotten victims of domestic violence conflicts and gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF). They are seen as an unaffected party in the broader GBVF scourge.  There is an undeniable link between domestic violence and child abuse.

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), investigated and reported on the state of shelters in South Africa, and released its report in 2020. Shelters are meant to accommodate and provide safety to victims and survivors of domestic and gender-based violence and crime. They are expected to afford vulnerable groups mechanisms to escape the cycle of abuse and reduce the impact of GBV. The sanctuary offered by shelters extends to protecting the rights of minor children, who are offered therapy to deal with the effects of the abuse meted out to their mothers.

The CGE observed that in the Gauteng province many shelters did not adequately provide for children. Some shelters did not keep records of how many children they admitted, others did not receive subsidy allocation for children from national government. Across provinces mothers who were admitted to shelters had to be concerned about their children as many shelters could not accommodate children either due to age limits or lack of beds. Most shelters indicated they did not receive sufficient funding to accommodate children indicating a mismatch between pledges, discourse and implementation.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) continuously receives complaints of sexual offences with indecent acts against minors, including cases of child abuse and neglect. According to crime statistics covering the period between April last year to March this year, police recorded 943 child murders and over 24,000 sexual offences against children.  This points to the association between children and gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is as much a children’s problem as it is a women’s problem. In South Africa children are victims of rape, abuse or murder, they are also likely to experience the trauma by witnessing their mothers and other women falling victim to these.

Children are unable to escape the impact of GBV. This has led to undetected trauma and psychological effects in children who live in impoverished areas and unable to access professional help. The effects eventually lead to other societal problems such as school bullying, child trafficking, child prostitution, child suicide and children getting in conflict with the law. As we observe Child Protection Week, may we be reminded that child abuse is correlated with GBVF and domestic violence. These numbers point to the need to intensify prevention measures and strategies in our society, the high prevalence of violence and insufficient family support structures coupled with the economic depravity and worsening socio-economic conditions requires significant interventions to quell this scourge. We cannot leave the most vulnerable unattended, our children must be remembered.

Dr Nthabiseng Moleko is Deputy Chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality