Pictures of pupils with burn wounds are doing rounds on social media.
These learners were allegedly burned by their peers using an iron at boarding school in Free State as part of initiation; and a man captured on video stabbing a woman several times at a student residence in Belhar in the Western Cape are common sights.
For many South Africans, violence is a part of daily life. It is, to some extent, a normalised aspect of social interactions.
Violence against women and children remains prevalent. Schools and university violence present a major challenge. Schools continued to record high cases of gender-based violence (GBV). They have become the epicentre of violence against women as demonstrated during dialogues organised by the Gauteng Department of Social Development to tackle bullying and gangsterism at schools in the province.
Pupils told stories of how they feared for their lives because of their peers who belong to gangsters. They also spoke about the danger of confronting these young criminals in school uniform because their activities extend beyond school premises. They told stories of how these learners disrupt learning and teaching.
According to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), South Africa faces a globally extraordinary challenge of violence against women and girls, as well as men and boys. They say the rates of homicide, rape childhood, and domestic violence are above those compared with other countries.
Physical abuse is affecting even more children as research found that one in three children or 34.4% experienced child physical abuse compared with 23% of the global average. Physical abuse was more likely to be reported by girls, and by Coloured and black children, than by boys, whites, or Indian children.
Emotional abuse is reported at 16% compared with the global average of 36% while child neglect was found to be experienced by 12.2% of children in the country compared to 16% global average. A high proportion of children reported that they witnessed violence (16%). Such violence is witnessed in the home, at school, or in communities. Another research among learners shows that one in five (20%) learners had experienced some form of cyber bullying or violence in the past year.
Research shows that the conditions that make many children vulnerable to violence includes exposure to drugs, alcohol, crime, and conflict, including domestic violence; absent parents, family difficulties such as a parent’s long-lasting illness and disability, financial scarcity in the family, and caregiver’s mental ill-health. Under these conditions, children are likely to experience severe physical and emotional abuse.
Experiencing violence during childhood has far-reaching consequences for children’s immediate and future health and social situations. It affects their physical, mental and sexual and reproductive health. Their behaviour may also be affected whereby they become used to choosing aggression whenever they respond to stressful situations. Their learning abilities may also be affected, thereby leading to poor educational progress and dropping out of school.
The study indicates that these high levels of violence are an enduring legacy of our colonial and apartheid past, which is driven by social dynamics formed during the years of racial and gender oppression, with systematic hardship, under-education, out of control violence, and distraction of normal family life.
According to a study by the University of Cape Town, growing up as a child in a home with both biological parents are not usual in South Africa. That is, the majority of children are born outside marriage, and there is generally no expectation of fathers having social involvement in the lives of these children.
The study further argued that those fathers do not usually provide financial support. Children are frequently raised by family members who are not their biological parents. Without parents’ protection, children are extremely vulnerable to violence and neglect.
Furthermore, the study says that girls exposed to physical, sexual and emotional trauma as children are at increased risk of re-victimisation as adults. The exposure of boys to violence, neglect, or sexual violence in childhood greatly increases the chance of being violent as adolescents and adults; it also reduces their ability to form enduring emotional attachments.
The UN’s Children’s Rights Charter, the Constitution and the Children’s Act No. 38 of 2005 recognise that children have specific rights that must be realised for children to develop to their full potential. These rights include the right to be protected from violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation everywhere. All children in South Africa have the right to be protected from abuse, violence, and things that could harm them.
This highlights the pressing need for us to renew our commitment to tackling this issue comprehensively. The reality is that GBVF is a profound and widespread issue in SA that has far-reaching consequences.
It is systemic and deeply entrenched in institutions, religion, culture, and tradition. According to recent police stats, about 53,900 South Africans reported being victims of sexual offences in the fiscal year 2022-2023. About 80% of the victims reported being raped, while more than 7,600 reported being sexually assaulted. What is concerning is that between July and September 2023, 10,516 rapes were reported, with 4,726 violations occurring at the victim’s or perpetrator’s home.
Additionally, 293 children lost their lives, 361 attempted murder incidents occurred, and 1,820 assault cases causing grievous bodily harm were reported. Behind each number is a story of pain, fear, and the urgent need for comprehensive action. It is important that we provide support systems for survivors instead of victim shaming and blaming.
This includes expanding access to counselling, medical care, legal aid, and safe shelters. Empowering survivors to re-build their lives is integral to the healing process and breaking the cycle of violence.
The government has introduced policies and programs, which include:
● the Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill; and
● the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill.
The establishment and capacity building of Rapid Response Teams at provincial and local levels is evidence of our commitment to an inclusive approach to ending this pandemic.
The development of the Comprehensive National Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Prevention and the Integrated Femicide Strategic Frameworks signal a holistic approach to turning the tide.
November marked a historic milestone with the passing of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill by the National Assembly.
The establishment of the council is an urgent and critical task and will ensure that GBVF issues are mainstreamed in government operations and functions and that the response is inter-sectoral, therefore leaving no one behind.
We are actively promoting the inclusion of men in shaping the response on gender-based violence, acknowledging the positional of men and women in reinforcing violent practices.
This includes acknowledging that violence also occurs in same-sex relationships and that men can also be at the receiving end of violence.
We must acknowledge that eliminating GBVF will require rejecting all forms of violence, no matter how ingrained in customs or how widely accepted they may be.
I urge men to be role models for young boys and guide them to have respect for and value the rights of women while also earning respect for themselves without perpetuating toxic masculinity. To ensure a future where women and children will not live in fear, it is necessary that we dismantle practices premised on the superiority and dominance of men. We must build a free, non-sexist, and equal society.
Teddy Gomba works for the Gauteng Department of Social Development