South Africa marks Child Protection Week from Sunday to shine the spotlight on issues affecting young South Africans under the age of 18.
Child Protection Week is an annual programme of the Department of Social Development and seeks to reinforce Children's Rights which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
The official programme was launched by Social Development Minister, Susan Shabangu, in Pretoria on Sunday, followed by a round-table discussion with stakeholders, including educators and children from various schools around the country as well as government departments.
The Department of Social Development says this year's theme for the week-long campaign is “Let Us All Protect Children to Move South Africa Forward.”
The Child Protection Week campaign was initiated in 1997 to raise awareness about the need for communities to protect children from abuse, neglect, exploitation and other forms of violence and ill-treatment.
However, researchers from several academic institutions, in a study published in the SA Medical Journal in March, concluded that exposures to and experiences of violence are pervasive in the lives of SA children and young adults, at least among those living in dense urban areas such as Soweto-Johannesburg.
The researchers said that very high levels of violence are reported to occur in all the settings of children’s lives, at home, in the community, at school, among peers, and in their intimate relationships.
Lucy Jamieson, a senior researcher at the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town said there needs to be real commitment from government to address the problem of violence against children, which she said was unprecedented anywhere in the world.
"It needs to be a collective effort from Health, Education, Social Development, the police, the prosecutors, community safety, this needs a combined group effort and it hasn't been made a political priority," she said.
In an interview on Algoa FM on Sunday, Jamieson said that a government study had also come to a similar conclusion. She said the Presidency had in fact done a study and conducted research to find out what was the health of the country's response system to violence against women and children.
"That study, a government study, said that there wasn't enough political will, there's not enough funding and that it is not a national priority. That's government words," she said.
Jamieson said she would "love" to see Child Protection Week this year, "be the start of something different", but she said unless of the Ministers are involved "it's not going to work."
Jamieson said that according to studies in several African countries, like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, children experienced the same "kind of levels of violence" but she said, "it is nowhere near as severe as in South Africa".
"South Africa, unfortunately, is one of the few countries in the world where baby rape is "common". We have a child who is raped under the age of 1 (One) almost every three days. And, I myself did a study that involved a site in the Eastern Cape. We had a case where a six-month-old baby had experienced chronic sexual abuse. That means that it was ongoing and repeated, in a baby that just six months old," she said.
Jamieson said that part of the problem is that "we are not responding, we are not taking it seriously."
She said a criminal investigation was done in the Eastern Cape case but said the matter could not proceed and the case was closed.
"Now, that baby needs therapy, that mother needs support but yet our system isn't responding to the needs of parents and children in terms of a therapeutic response that is going to stop violence in the long term," Jamieson said.
Pointing to another study by International Budget Partnership, which analyses government budgets, Jamieson said it was found that "only 1% of the combined the national, provincial, Social Development budget" is spent on solving this problem.
"We've done many studies, including how do we provide a positive therapeutic response to children who suffered abuse and there are some excellent programmes doing great work, but it is reaching a tiny percentage of children because the money is just not there from the government," said Jamieson.
"It's like education, everyone needs an education. We'll with violence, I'm afraid, we all need help and support."