Children in South Africa live in a society with a Constitution that has the highest regard for their rights and for the equality and dignity of everyone. Protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse is not only a basic value, but also an obligation that is clearly set out in Article 28 of the South African Constitution. Despite the best efforts of the South African Government and civil society to protect children from child abuse, neglect and exploitation, many children still remain vulnerable.
Reducing the high levels of violence against children is among South Africa’s most overwhelming tasks. Children who grow up in fear will never trust adults or develop the clear boundaries that they need for healthy psychological and social development.
The reality is furthermore that child abuse is not limited to certain sectors of our society. It affects all social, economic and ethnic levels. What are the causes?
Ronel van Zyl, Director of Social Services at Badisa, shares the following insight:
• Adults who suffered abuse or were ill-treated during childhood are more likely to abuse their own children because the flawed family model they grew up with. Many times parents have unrealistic expectations of their children or they lack parenting skills.
• Parents who lack support from family and friends are at risk.
• Parents who engage in substance abuse are almost three times more likely to abuse their children. Single parent alcoholics or drug users are even more at risk because there is no second parent to diffuse the situation or protect the chid.
• Parents who struggle with emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression are less able to cope with the stresses of parenting. People with these disorders have difficulty caring for themselves and are even less able to care for others.
Myths that exist about child abuse
• It is only abuse if it is violent.
• Only bad people abuse their children.
• Child abuse doesn’t happen in “good” families.
• Most child abusers are strangers.
• Abused children always grow up to be abusers (they are more at risk).
What are the effects of child abuse?
• Lack of trust, relationship difficulties.
• Core feelings of being worthless or damaged.
• Trouble regulating emotions.
Can you spot the warning signs?
• Excessively withdrawn, fearful, anxious.
• Shows extremes in behaviour.
• Doesn’t seem to be attached to parent/caregiver.
• Acts either inappropriately adult or inappropriately infantile.
• Frequent injuries, unexplained bruises.
• Always watchful, alert.
• Injuries appear to have a pattern e.g. belt.
• Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movement.
• Wears inappropriate clothing.
• Ill-fitting clothes.
• Bad hygiene.
• Untreated illnesses.
• Frequently unsupervised, left alone, plays in unsafe areas.
• Late, missing school.
• Trouble walking or sitting.
• Displays inappropriate knowledge of sex/interest in sex.
• Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person.
• Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others.
• STD pregnancy, especially under 14.
• Runs away from home.
Why is it important to recognise abusive behaviour in yourself?
• Do you feel angry and frustrated and don’t know where to turn?
• Do you recognise yourself in some descriptions, painful as it may be?
• Recognising you have a problem is a big step in getting help!
Tips for changing reactions
• Learn what is appropriate and what is not.
• Have realistic expectations.
• Develop new parenting skills.
• Take care of yourself.
• Get professional help.
• Learn how to get your emotions under control.
When you report child abuse, try and be as specific as possible, understand that you may not learn the outcome, due to the confidentiality, but if you see future incidences continue to call and report.
Become that person in your community that will create safe spaces for these children.
You can help to empower Badisa to attend to all cases of child abuse in the areas we work by donating R50 TODAY.