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Children at the frontline of violence

In recoganition of Child Protection Week, which takes place between 26 May and 1 June, the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children hosted a roundtable discussion with representatives from the South African Police Services and principals from local schools. The focus was on violence experienced by schoolchildren living on the Cape Flats, including child-on-child aggression, abuse, gang violence and exposure to substance use.

According to Don Pinnock’s Gang Town, a quarter of children under the age of 18 in the Cape Flats have a parent or sibling who has been jailed, while 15% live in a household where someone is in a gang. “Exposure to violence is an unrelenting problem in the community. This year we have seen children shot in gang-related crossfire, the rise of girl gangs and countless reminders that abuse and substance use is rampant across the Flats,” says child counsellor at the Manenberg-based Centre, Zeenat Osman.

Earlier this year, the Centre launched a Life Skills programme for schools designed to identify, discuss and address multiple manifestations of violence. The coursework looks at domestic and sexual violence, bullying, substance abuse and unhealthy methods of coping with emotions like anger.

“Exposure to high levels of violence produces a traumatised and often desensitised generation, particularly when children lack the skills and space to process their experiences,” says Osman. “Children are expected to concentrate on school work in order to build a better life, this is difficult to achieve, when one is wired to be on alert for threats to personal safety, or dealing with intrusive memories of physical and sexual assault.”

Another concern raised is the lack of research based on local populations; “Crime statistics and hospital records tell a part of the story, but the scope and range of violent experiences that local children face has not yet been sufficiently captured. Children are not only affected when they themselves are the victims of violence – exposure to drug use and violence amongst family members and peers impacts their emotional psyche too,” says Osman.

Established in 1999, the Saartjie Baartman Centre has assisted more than 180 000 victims of violence and abuse. Children who visit the Centre often report histories marred with trauma – including abuse, neglect, displacement, behavioural problems, substance abuse and difficulties at school.

ENDS

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Distributed by Be-cause Integrated Communications:

Emma Proctor

emma@be-cause.co.za

021 447 1082 / 072 930 4412

On behalf of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children:

Director: Shaheema McLeod

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