"Child sex abuse is on the rise"

By: Lindsey Arkley

This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on September 23, 2004

Child abuse in South Africa is on the increase while the average age of sex abuse victims is getting lower.

In a damning indictment of the authorities, the national co-ordinator of Childline SA has told an international conference that the response of South Africa to the crisis remains poor.

Inconsistent and unco-ordinated responses to cases of infant sexual abuse were failing the victims, allowing perpetrators to avoid prosecution and leaving innocent carers distraught, Joan van Niekerk said in Brisbane at an International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect.

In her paper, she released the findings of a detailed study of 45 cases of children aged between 18 months and five years who were sexually abused between January last year and April this year.

The cases, reported in Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, featured a mix of urban and rural children.

Key findings of the study included that in most cases the perpetrators were known to the children.

"Of great concern is that not a single of these 45 cases has had a positive outcome in terms of our criminal justice process," Van Niekerk said. "There are a whole lot of possible reasons for this, and they also require in-depth study."

One possible reason could be that although most of the children studied had gone for a medical examination, sexual assault investigation kits had generally not been used.

"These kits are quite critical in terms of gathering evidence," she said. "I was not able to explore the reasons why they're not being used. This aspect needs to be investigated."

The study had been launched after Childline SA staff noted that well over half of the child sexual abuse victims presented for therapy were aged under seven years.

"That was a very concerning statistic for us because it shows a decrease in the average age of the sexually abused child," she said.

"We've also noticed a decrease in the average age of the sexual offender. Now about 50 percent of the offenders referred into our treatment programmes are under 18."

In the 45 cases studied, the perpetrators of the abuse ranged in age from seven to 75, Van Niekerk said.

The 45 cases were "just a fraction" of the number of infant abuse cases recorded in South Africa in the study period, she stressed. Childline figures showed they were increasing.

"It is a real increase, because all of these children suffer some form of physical damage," she said. "When you sexually abuse a child under five, and it's a penetrative sexual act, that would not easily go undetected by the care-giver of that child.

"There would be blood on the underwear, the child would be uncomfortable during bathing and toileting, and care-givers would rapidly pick that up."

It was clear from the study that existing child abuse policies and protocols were simply not being applied to the under-five age group, she said. Evidence of this was "an enormous lack of communication" between police, social workers and health professionals involved in particular cases.

"These children do not get a comprehensive service. The likelihood of successful prosecution is thus minimised because the children are dealt with in such a discontinuous way."

Another issue of concern in dealing with the problem of sexual abuse of infants was transmission of HIV and Aids, with two of the children in the study group having become HIV-positive as a result of being assaulted.

The still commonly held false view that sexual intercourse with a virgin could cure HIV and Aids was part of the problem, Van Niekerk said.

"In a recent study done among schoolchildren, 10 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 18 believed that myth," she said.

"With a third of all South African children under 10 already sexually active in some kind of peer sexual activity, sex with a very small child would be the preference for some."

"It's a myth that's really putting children at risk. I think everyone is working very hard to disabuse people of it, but the progress is slow."

There had also been a recent increase in the number of older children reporting sexual abuse, said another speaker at the Brisbane conference, Mollie Kemp.

Compared to other countries South Africa had a comparative lack of resources to deal with child sexual abuse, she said


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We are proud and honoured that our work has been recognised by the UK Prime Minister, and that he has given Lesley his Point of Light award, stating
With the Infant Trust Lesley has empowered thousands of women across South Africa to protect and safeguard children in their communities. The education and training she has provided has helped to improve the lives of over 800,000 children, tackling the violence and abuse that affects too many of them in their early years. As we mark International Women’s Day this week I am delighted to recognise all that Lesley has done.”
You can find the full story at https://www.pointsoflight.gov.uk/2268-2/
Why are so many small children abused by male perpetrators in South Africa? Our researcher interviewed 27 perpetrators in prison in South Africa; all are in jail after being found guilty of some of the most terrible crimes against some of the most vulnerable children – some as young as a few days old. Those interviewed are all men aged between 16 years and 84 years old, and all have brutalised and raped at least one child. But the findings aren’t maybe what we might expect – it makes interesting reading.  We have been funding research into this for 5 years and it is finally finished and published .

Our flagship Caring for Crèches programme has reached into some of the poorest communities in five of the nine provinces in South Africa and we have crèche leaders everywhere clamouring for the training. We have now trained over 2,200 people and they in turn have already positively impacted on the lives of over 160,000 children … and will continue to help many hundreds more children for years to come