Mothers keeping quiet and not reporting abuse of their children by male partners has come under the spotlight in a recent case concluded in the High Court in Johannesburg.
This week, the High Court sentenced a young couple to lengthy prison sentences for the 2018 murder of their 5-year-old child. The 28-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison, whilst his 26-year-old partner will spend 10 years behind bars.
The court heard that their deceased son and his then 8-year-old sister were brutally assaulted by their father on numerous occasions. Their mother did not report any of the abuse and didn’t once take the children for medical attention.
The identity of the convicted couple can’t be revealed to protect the abused children, especially the daughter, who has survived the horrendous assaults.
For two months, the children, who were 5 and 8 at the time, were brutally beaten by their father and they bear the scars of this abuse.
In handing down sentence this week, Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng described the father as a sadistic individual who murdered his own biological child. He also criticised the mother for failing to intervene or raise the alarm with the authorities and for not taking the children to the doctor.
The Ikhaya Lethembashelter for victims of gender-based violence’s Connie Ramathibela says there are a number of reasons why mothers keep quiet and don’t report abuse perpetrated on their children by their partners.
“In this case, I sense that the mother has developed a Battered Woman Syndrome, where a person can do anything to hang onto a relationship with this person. She is protecting the abuser more than the child. They are trapped in this abuse; she feels there is no way out probably this man was controlling every move of this woman. So, this woman was probably abused as much as the child was abused and they were both threatened. This person is trying to please the partner.”
The father, who received a life sentence for murder, was unemployed and had spent most of his time sitting at home while his wife went to work.
The mother told the court that she was too afraid to report the abuse because her partner had threatened to kill her if she did.
But the court rejected this. In his sentencing report, the Judge detailed how the mother had lied to doctors to save her partner. He says that she had told doctors at the hospital where the child had been declared dead, that he had just fallen.
A post-mortem report revealed that the boy had 11 fractured ribs that had been sustained over a period of time, and the cause of death was blunt force head injuries.
The surviving sister’s young body is also covered with scars, evidence of frequent abuse.
Ramathibela says that this child witnessed the abuse that killed her brother and that will have a lasting effect on her.
“Even though these parents are now convicted, it is still a trauma for this child, because a parent is a parent. No matter how we see the parent in our eyes, the child always sees that parent, so it is difficult now for the breakup and won’t be seeing these parents for a long time. But at least it is a relief she will be treated differently. The adjustments might be difficult but eventually, it is for her own good.”
Detective Sergeant Tinyiko Ngobeni of the Hillbrow police investigated the case. She arrested the father after luring him back from Zimbabwe where he had fled.
Ngobeni says mothers who fail to report the abuse of their children are accomplices to the crime and are committing an offence.
“When you keep quiet as a mother how do you think the children can trust you if they can see you are not helping them. You must break the silence no matter what. You cannot consider the relationship better than your kids. You must fight for your kids.”
The NGO – Women and Men against Child Abuse – which was part of the case – agrees. Spokesperson Ngaa Murombedzi says such parents are abdicating their responsibilities and must face the consequences.
“The 8-year-old child, she was eight at that time, this is something she witnessed, this is something she will carry throughout her life. When we say no violence against women and children, violence also includes the life-long trauma that she is going to experience. The life sentence that accused one got is appropriate, but we would have liked to see a much harsher sentence for the mother based on what the surviving child went through. Mothers must speak up, if you don’t speak up you will be punished severely.”
The surviving victim has been placed in the care of her grandmother.
16 Days of Activism against GBV|2020 theme is “Act and Don’t Look Away”: