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Centre sees rise in demand for child services

Incidents of assault, kidnapping and child human trafficking are being reported almost daily in the Western Cape. The Saartjie Baartman Centre, a facility for abused women and children, has seen a 65% increase in the need for services over the last few years, with child services near the top of this list. This month marks the first birthday of their children’s counselling programme, a programme that works to assist children in overcoming the trauma of domestic violence.

While Child Protection Week highlights the rights of children in South Africa from the 26 May to 1 June, the Saartjie Baartman Centre has found that perpetrators are rarely appropriately punished for their crimes, with only 3% of offenders facing conviction. Based on the edge of the Cape Flats, an area with high rates of crime, gangsterism, unemployment and substance abuse, the Centre has played a key role in combatting abuse in the community.

“Children are the most vulnerable members of society,” Zeenat Osman-Nieftagodien, a child counsellor at the Saartjie Baartman Centre said. “Most of the women who arrive at the Centre are single mothers, where the father is either absent or has been abusive. We are able to assess and provide counselling to children staying at the shelter as well as those living in the area.”
Stories of child abuse are commonplace in South Africa and last week saw a two-year-old boy held captive and assaulted in Beaufort West. The trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls recently brought into the spotlight child abuse as a global issue, as the world took to social media to speak out against the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

“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 Osman-Nieftagodien. “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 Saartjie Baartman Centre is the only one-stop facility of its kind in the Western Cape – they provide crisis response, temporary shelter, counselling, legal advice and job skills training to an average of 6 600 women and children each year. Its onsite shelter can house 30 women and 55 children at any given time. Typical problems faced by the children who visit the Centre include abuse, neglect, displacement, behavioural problems, substance abuse and difficulties at school.

“One out of four children are abused in South Africa, so it’s important that children’s actions are not always taken at face value; self-destructive behaviour can be a sign that something is not right,” says Osman-Nieftagodien.

* Signs that a child has been exposed to violence:

  • Unwarranted aggressive behaviour.
  • Reduced social competence or deliberate social isolation.
  • Depressive symptoms.
  • Bullies other children or gets angry for no reason.
  • Learning problems or poor academic performance.
  • Views the world as a hostile, threatening environment.
  • Regressive behaviour (bedwetting or thumb sucking).

* Keeping children safe

  • Never leave your child unattended.
  • Get to know your child mannerisms, personality, behaviour and routines and keep track of any changes.
  • Talk and listen to your child so that they feel comfortable approaching you for assistance.
  • Be aware of the people in your child’s life and the impact they may have.

*NOTE: These signs are general and non-specific. Reaction to violence and trauma differs depending on the age, personality and temperament of the child, as well as the level of exposure.

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