Report by Lesley Rudd on our visit to South Africa

January and February 2011

Visit the photo gallery for pictures of this trip

Every visit to South Africa is emotional. This one was no different. We heard stories that would move anybody to tears. At times the abuse of very young children seems overwhelming but there’s always encouragement to be gained from the progress of the projects we support.

Some projects are forging ahead. Others are slow to meet targets and have been told to pull their socks up if they want further funding.

Liz joined me for part of this trip. We had an interesting meeting with our old friends at Johannesburg Child Welfare, who say the problem of placing traumatised children is not getting easier. Small abused children tend to exhibit very inappropriate behaviours, and are quite a challenge to care for. We discussed funding a programme of training and support for foster parents. The idea is good, but it will depend on cost.

I was talking to a psychologist and she tells me that in the township where she works they have had to start groups for male perpetrators as young as five years old, who abuse younger tots. The boys are being made to face up to what they have done.

We had to talk tough at one of “our” crèches.  We had agreed funding for the crèche in 2008 on the basis that within 3 years it would be registered with the authorities and be self-sufficient. The crèche has progressed wonderfully for the children, the women who run it and the surrounding community, but there is no registration yet. We will give them one more payment for the crèche; the registration must be completed by July when I return.

Apart from the 55 children in the crèche at the moment, a further 90 highly vulnerable children have been cared for, protected, given nutritious food and developed in the 2 to 3 years prior to primary school. This is all to do with the infant trust working with Childline, and a small example of what we can do together. 

In two additional and separate provinces we are working again with Childline and fully funding 340 people from 170 crèches to go through the Caring for Crèches programme this year. At one crèche we visited we found many new arrivals now that older children have moved on to reception class. They were mostly upset or withdrawn. But these are the sorts of children the crèches are set-up for.

We met our friends at Imisebeyelanga and had a long chat about how training programmes are going. We heard many stories of casual and quite savage abuse against very small tots. There are many incidents of small children being raped by a father or stepfather and not being believed by the mother or the police, so the man returns home and the abuse is endlessly repeated.  This is where our training for community workers is so crucial.

We were really pleased to visit a children’s refuge which we support with money for food every month. The children were all assembled and waiting for us with down-at-heel clothing and snotty noses. They have appalling histories yet were joyful and so happy to see us. It was a treasured moment.

We went to see the folks in Mpumalanga and visited several crèches; Childline staff were taken by surprise by the sheer numbers of serious abuse being identified through the crèches and they are determined to act. They are working with the police, community services and leaders, teachers, tribal chiefs and social welfare. It was amazing to see how the programme we had started had turned into a big awareness campaign involving so many official groups – it was a good reminder of how amazingly successful is this training of crèche leaders.

The crèches do so much good work but can be distressing places nonetheless. Many crèches we visited had rooms where one member of staff was looking after 25-plus babies. It really grieves me to see these tiny tots contained in hot rooms and with such limited care and attention.

I suspect that Childline will be thinking even harder now about how to tackle not just the abuse, but the question of staff-to-children ratios in crèches and guidance for looking after babies and toddlers.   

The information we get via Childline through our Caring for Crèches projects continues to cause concern. In one area people who attended our courses reported 115 serious cases of abuse against pre-school children in just one month. And there are many more homes with no adults where young children are looked after by older children.

Visiting the Children’s DisAbility project I saw children who live impoverished, chaotic lives, and have to cope with immense behaviour problems. Seeing the problems they struggle with at the DisAbility project I am convinced we were right not to get involved helping to fund a crèche for disabled children. The cost is huge (their staffing bill alone is £350,000 a year) and once involved, would we have ever been able to pull out of a project like that?

There have been lots of other little successes along the way. For example, all the Ghetto Boyz last year passed their exams and are ready for the next stage, either back in school or on to tertiary education. Football has made a really major difference, diverting boys away from violence.

We went to two community centres in very poor rural areas to deliver the donated football shirts we had lugged all the way from the UK. Football certainly develops a sense of communal and personal responsibility. The children were thrilled with their new kit. It was wonderful to see their reactions.

We can never neglect the children in such need, and will continue to work tirelessly to raise the money to keep up our work – the positive results coming back are more than we could ever have envisaged and it is crucial we keep going.




Lesley Rudd
Chief Executive

the infant trust

Our project locations

Map of South Africa

We are not sending any more toys to South Africa. If you would like to donate then please contact the lovely people at:

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
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