Umm Muhammed Umar
This week is Child Protection Week, which comes at a time when the country’s children live in communities where they are under constant threat. Just yesterday, the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court sentenced a 30-year-old man, to three life jail terms, after he pleaded guilty to raping three of his family members. The children, two boys and a girl, were aged 10, 12, and 8 years, old at the time. Radio Islam spoke to the Director for the Teddy Bear Foundation, Dr Shaheda Omar.
Dr Omar said that the specific focus for this year’s Child Protection Week was: let us all work together to protect children during COVID 19, and beyond. One of the key aspects of the focus was teen pregnancy. Dr Omar said the statistics were alarming – 800 000 young girls between the ages of 10 to 14, and 23 000 under the age of 18. According to Dr Omar, these are the most recent statistics released by the Department of Social Development.
Dr Omar said that there were many risk factors. She said that having worked with teen mums and their families, she found that many had been actually victims of statutory rape, “meaning that it was either a family friend, or an elder, or it was transactional sex in exchange for material goods or tokens that these children received.” She added, “and in certain cases where the family were aware of it, it was not reported to the authorities, and (they) took compensation in terms of material remuneration.” Dr Omar said that statutory was a huge concern, with incest also having been exposed in some cases.
Dr Omar further revealed that young girls who were in a dating relationship with peers often found themselves compromised, and conforming to the demands of engaging in a sexual relationship, against their will. She said the girls also highlighted the lack of information or discussion and dialogue around sexuality – that the subject was taboo – and they dared not approach any family member to discuss the topic or ask questions. She said, “they have a lot of questions and their source of information, instead of coming from the family, which would be more accurate and correct, they resort to other means of information………from the internet; all sorts of other channels of information is sought.” She added, “And of course, they find themselves compromised and the outcome is an unwanted pregnancy something.”
A plan of action, according to Dr Omar, required a more holistic, integrated, collaborative effort. She said that it was time for the government to identify child protection and child safety as a strategic priority, and to build partnerships with civil society, NGOs, faith-based organizations. She said, “everybody needs to come together, and develop an inter sectoral plan to promote the safety of our children.” Dr Omar added, “if we just look at the past 20 years – and we have the Child Protection campaigns year after year – but if we look at the incidence of violence and the scourge of violence that is inflicted on children, it’s becoming more and more alarming, and increasing and escalating at a rate that we are not able to control.” She said that adults, and parents, had to be equipped in regards to safety measures, dialogue, and communicating with children, “positive parenting is one of the options that we need to enforce across the spectrum……so this is a huge responsibility; we need to advocate and allocate resources…… there needs to be budget created, (with) parents given the support and guidance on how to manage situations.”