Children: Victims of crime, violence

A study recently commissioned by South Africa’s Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) found that children were twice as likely to experience violence and crime than adults and also that the government was failing to provide them with adequate protection. The revelations have cast a dark shadow over issues of child safety in South Africa, whose capital Johannesburg is believed to have one of the highest crime rates in the world. According to the study, which was conducted by CJCP research director Patrick Burton and Lezanne Leoschult, the youth are more at risk of violence both from adults and from crime and violence instigated among themselves. A survey of 4 409 respondents reportedly found that 41.5 percent of South African youths between the ages of 12-22 were victims of crime in the period from September 2004 to September 2005. This was despite government efforts to prioritise issues affecting young people in the country. The study also highlighted the fact that children were also at risk in places that were believed to be safe environments for them, which included schools and homes. The report stated that children were forced into these “protected” environments where they became victims of robbery, assault, threats and intimidation and where they were largely forced to do things against their will. Burton said this was particularly worrying in light of the fact that “children spend several hours a day in these threatening environments”. Since the beginning of the year, several cases of violence and crime against children have been reported in South Africa. Sadly, the bulk of these have involved the use of dangerous weapons. In recent weeks, police have received several reports of a new wave of armed robberies that are being specifically targeted at school-going children, particularly when they are on their way from school. Three weeks ago, the resort city of Durban was shocked by news of a robbery on a commuter train carrying about 200 pupils to a sports event in Johannesburg. The pupils were reportedly robbed by a gang of four armed men who threw stones at the train, forcing it to stop between Dassenhoek and Sithundu Hills, and then forcing their way into one of the carriages were the schoolchildren were. The men reportedly stole MP3 players, walkmans, cellphones and cash from the boys’ bags. Only a week later, a Johannesburg school was also attacked by a gang of heavily armed robbers who stormed the school during lessons and stole a variety of goods from students and staff. Apart from these instances, other cases relating to violent rape of schoolchildren and minors and fatal attacks carried out by and on children with weapons have also been reported. Burton said the occurrence and frequency of violence against youths of school-going age raised serious concerns regarding the effectiveness of present government initiatives to combat crime and violence in schools. “There is an urgent need for the development and implementation of multi-pronged crime prevention strategies at all schools,” he told the Independent Online two weeks ago. He said his report had revealed that there was a critical lack of safe places for young people, evidenced by the fact that they could also be attacked in places they believed to be safe. He also said in a number of cases the perpetrators were usually known by the child victims and were members of their communities. A large number of the children in the survey, particularly those from high-density communities, were exposed to criminal elements in their residential areas, and at least half had witnessed some incidents of violence. “Many young people surveyed in this study are being raised in community environments fraught with risk factors, where crime and violence are the order of the day and where illegal substances and weapons are easily accessible. “They (illegal substances and weapons) heighten the susceptibility of young people to both victimisation and offending,” Burton said. Instances of violence were also rampant among families, with one in 10 children stating that family members became physically violent when they were angry. Other statistics within the report have also raised fears over child safety and increased calls for the government to urgently consider issues of safety relating to the youth. l At least one in seven children has been assaulted ‘ mostly at school, where other types of victimisation include verbal threats and theft. l Nearly a third of the children reported that they had been victims of insults and other forms of verbal abuse at school. l More than 10 percent of the youths said they were fearful at their school. l Half said they were scared of criminals, and l Almost 20 percent feared their classmates.

May 2006
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