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Children caught in the crossfire of violence

The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children has raised concern around escalating levels of violence against children. Based in Manenberg on the Cape Flats, the Centre attributes the increased levels of violence towards an increase in violence in general, with children being caught in the crosswire – be it gang related or domestic violence.

“Despite all of the awareness raised, at least three children that we know of have gone missing over the past two weeks. The system is broken and sadly children, our most vulnerable members of society, are easy targets for predators,” says Shaheema McLeod, Director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.

Using Child Protection Week, which takes place from 25 to 31 May, the Centre launched an anonymous postcard campaign, aimed at exploring the rational behind violence. The campaign, named “I Deserve It” tasked 600 Grade 10 learners to motivate the circumstances that would warrant domestic violence. Responses varied, from violence, no matter the situation, is not acceptable, to violence being deserved, when dinner wasn’t ready or an expected (but unconfirmed) affair had taken place.

“We’re not surprised by the findings of the campaign, often there is a disconnect between that which people know to be wrong, to how there behaviour plays out,” says McLeod. “Our findings revealed that regardless of the community and the school, the learner responses very much depended on the environment in which the child had been raised in.”

Stories of child abuse are commonplace in South Africa; one out of four children are abused daily and it has been estimated that a child goes missing every five hours. Reducing the high levels of violence against children is among South Africa’s most overwhelming tasks. Despite the country’s progressive child protection laws, policies and programmes, high levels of abuse and violence are reported on a daily basis.

“Children are not only affected when they themselves are the victims of violence – exposure to violence, for example towards the mother, can be seriously damaging to their emotional psyche,” says Zeenat Osman, child counsellor at the Centre. “Children who have witnessed domestic violence may experience a variety of emotions ranging from guilt to helplessness, which in turn can lead to behavioural problems or social difficulties. The postcard campaign was very insightful in this regard, it provided an opportunity to explore the ramifications of violence through an anonymous platform.”

The following schools took part in the campaign; Sea Point High School, Leadership College, Gugulethu Comprehensive Secondary School and Norman Henshilwood High School.

Established in 1999, the Centre has assisted more than 100 000 victims of violence and abuse. Typical problems faced by the children who visit the Centre include abuse, neglect, displacement, behavioural problems, substance abuse and difficulties at school.

Feedback from learners – “I Deserve It”

Rational for abuse:

  • When I am impudent and out of line and get smacked for it.
  • When someone sexually harasses me. My mother deserves it when my father hits her.
  • When men smack my bum because I am dressed inappropriately.
  • In Islam the husband can hit his wife only if she disobeys more than thrice. He’s not allowed to hit her in her face.

Rational against abuse:

  • Women should not be beaten, whether they are at fault or not. Everyone makes mistakes. Women do not deserve to be injured for a silly mistake like burning food. Men are just petty sometimes.
  • A women should not be beaten, our constitution and bill of rights says so. Everyone is equal, no one is perfect, we all make mistakes. Women deserve respect, love and care and not to be beaten.
  • When a women does something wrong for her husband, they should talk about it and not fight about it.
  • No one deserves to be beaten. It is not right.



Distributed by Be-cause Integrated Communications:

Beverley Houston

021 447 1082 / 082 824 8617

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

Director: Shaheema McLeod

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