Child abuse on the rise

The number of Indian children being beaten by their drunken fathers, starved, sexually violated and “sold” through prostitution, is steadily on the rise in Chatsworth, Phoenix, Tongaat and Verulam

In some instances, abused children are also being placed back in the care of their alleged abusers

Published Feb 23, 2024

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The number of Indian children being beaten by their drunken fathers, starved, sexually violated and “sold” through prostitution, is steadily on the rise in Chatsworth, Phoenix, Tongaat and Verulam.

And, a failed social welfare system - with inexperienced social workers and a lack of resources - is exacerbating the problem, community gender-based activists warn.

In some instances, abused children are also being placed back in the care of their alleged abusers.

Cookie Edwards, the director of the KwaZulu-Natal Network on Violence against Women, said she had found on many occasions that social workers do not do proper investigations or follow-up timeously on child abuse cases.

“The system needs to be streamlined and the rules tightened. The Child Act is meant to protect children but the loopholes make this challenging. I have also come across social workers, who do not want to assist children on weekends or after hours.

“We have had instances where we cannot access help from a GBV help desk at police stations because there is no one manning it. Social workers also go on leave and cases get sent to new people, and often the information is lost or mixed up. Some social workers are overworked with too many cases,” said Edwards.

She said most times, social workers called activists like her to help take in abused children.

“When children are removed from an abusive home, it is important to place them in a place of safety immediately, but often the social workers are stuck. They cannot find a place for these children.

“We recently had a case where a child went to school in his pyjamas and the social welfare department was immediately notified. It was later found that the child was alone at home with his four other siblings, including a baby. Although they were removed from the home there was no place of safety available for them, and I took them in.”

She said poverty was driving human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is not shipping a person over the border to another country. It is selling a person. We are seeing an increase in human trafficking locally because of poverty and unemployment. More parents are ‘selling’ their children to prostitution. Once again, parents who are supposed to be protectors become the oppressors.”

Daniel Chettiar, the founder of the non-profit organisation, DSK, said since Covid-19 there had been a 33% increase in the abuse of children.

“We have received reports of children being beaten by drunken fathers, others are being starved and locked in their homes. We also have reports of children being sexually violated by their relatives.

“The reason why some of these cases fall through the cracks is because communities do not want to speak out against child abuse, and because many of these cases fall through the crack in the welfare system. Sadly, this results in many of the children going back to their abusers.”

Chettiar said the key to curbing this was accountability.

“Family members and neighbours keep silent because they do not want to testify in court or give statements. People are turning a blind eye to child abuse. We have social workers with limited experience or fresh out of university handling cases. We have been told by mothers that if their daughters are not ‘sold’ as prostitutes, they will not have an income.”

Chettiar said in a bid to protect children, communities needed to blow the whistle on abuse.

Pamela Padayachee, the founder of Women’s PACT, said social welfare in the country was crumbling.

“Social workers are unable to remove children from abusive homes as they do not have places to keep them. On a daily basis, the cases of child abuse become more severe. It is also sad that the government does not prioritise GBV.

“In some police stations there is no manpower to run the advice desk. We also have the wrong people in positions to help children. There are social workers with no training or experience in dealing with children. There is no real passion in this field anymore.”

“We are dealing with cases where parents are trafficking their daughters who are as young as nine. We need to step up and help the girl child. This is affecting the poorest of the community. We need to expose it,” Padayachee added.

She said community-based organisations, police, the government and the Department of Social Development needed to go back to the drawing board to find ways to ensure that children were not sent back to their abusers.

The POST

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