Child Protection Week 2015

Posted on June 08, 2015

Child Protection Week is an annual event that aims to raise awareness of children’s rights to care and protection. The theme for this year’s Child Protection Week, which took place from 31 May to 7 June 2015, was ‘Working together to protect our children’.

The South African government has shown its sincere commitment to putting children first by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the Bill of Rights (which confers additional human rights on children), a National Action Plan for Children, and the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. Despite these instruments, the rights and well-being of our children continue to be disregarded.

Children’s rights cannot be said to be a priority in South Africa if corporal punishment continues to be used, children have to drop out of school because of poverty, drug abuse harms their health and hinders their education, and the most significant people in their lives – parents, caregivers, teachers and leaders – violate their rights. What values are being taught to the nation’s children if a baby is used as an ‘object’ to beat a partner, xenophobia is the face of anger and blame, educational qualifications are forged  to secure a job, and bribery is perceived as the best way to get what you want?

The problems in schools – such as learners stabbing or killing one another, teachers sexually exploiting learners, drug abuse on playgrounds, and emotional abuse by way of bullying, sexual harassment and pornography – are symptoms of the society that adults helped to create. Children are not born rebellious and aggressive; their ways of dealing with differences and conflict are moulded by the environments to which they are exposed. This places a huge responsibility on adults to protect the rights of children.

The high incidence of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation in South Arica implies that children’s rights are not being adequately protected in the country. The violation of children’s rights is perpetuated by poverty and social exclusion. Children are confronted on a daily basis with media reports on high unemployment rates, especially amongst the youth. Although considerable progress has been made in reducing the extent of poverty and social exclusion, as pointed out in the 2014 Report by the South African Human Rights Commission and UNICEF, children remain trapped by poverty owing to deep-seated structural injustices that deprive them of a better future. Within the context of poverty, violations against children go beyond physical violence, emotional abuse, child trafficking, and sexual exploitation, to include not having a birth certificate, poor nourishment, poor quality of education, and limited access to health services, clean water, sanitation or secure shelter.

Poverty lies at the root of child vulnerability as it affects the socio-economic environment in which people live. Poverty perpetuates social ills such as violence and drug abuse, which are evident in many South African communities. Violence destroys children’s futures before the foundations thereof have even been laid. Violence creates an unsafe and insecure environment for children and destroys the social fabric of society. By destroying children’s hope of having a future it causes them to doubt that they matter.

Over the past 21 years, South Africa has made significant progress in prioritising the rights of children by putting in place systems and structures such as child support grants, feeding schemes, and early childhood development programmes. These are essential for creating a better future; however, in order for the change to be sustainable, children need to know that they have dignity and value, that their voices matter, and that adults care about them. Adults should convey this by respecting the rights of others in schools, at home, and on the roads.

The responsibility for protecting children rests not only with government, but also with every citizen. Every adult should set an example, listen to children and believe them, and make sure that children know their rights and understand their responsibilities. One of the biggest challenges in child protection is building resilience and hope for a better future.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scheduled to be launched towards the end of the year, improve upon the Millennium Development Goals by recognising and addressing the importance of ending violence against children and combatting child poverty. Each of the proposed SDGs can be contextualised with a focus on protecting the rights and well-being of children.

Quality education is necessary in order to create a better future for our children. It can be achieved by finding resources, creating safe learning environments that are conducive to speaking out, sharing opinions and learning to act responsibly. It is also necessary to ensure that children have access to early childhood development opportunities and that they attend school and complete their education. Although education does not guarantee a job, it is, in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.

Now, more than ever, South Africa needs leaders at all levels who understand children’s rights and are committed to making them a reality in the lives of all children. Children cannot and must not wait.

Prof Antoinette Lombard, Head: Department of Social Work & Criminology


- Author Prof Antoinette Lombard, Head: Department of Social Work & Criminology

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