THE SILENT VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE
Local and global statistics concerning violence against children paint a dim picture
Between January and March of 2022, 306 children were murdered in South Africa, according to the fourth quarter crime statistics released on 3 June by Police Minister Bheki Cele. The most recent statistics show a 37.2% increase of children murdered compared to the same time last year.
More than 1 900 children were assaulted in the first three months of 2022 – an increase of 12.7% from the same time last year.
While statistics are limited to the number of reported cases, it does sketch a grim picture of violence against children in Southern Africa.
“South Africa has one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the world, and it is the most common human rights abuse in the country,” notes, Korkie.
Of course, violence against children is not limited to South Africa. Estimations by the World Health Organisation in 2020 suggest that globally, up to one-billion children aged 2-17 years had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect in 2019. These statistics were recorded before the impact of a global pandemic, Covid-19, the take-over of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, to name a few.
In August 2021, during a conference hosted by the African Partnership to End Violence against Children, reports suggested more than half of all children experience physical abuse. In some parts of Africa, four in ten girls suffer sexual violence before the age of 15.
Korkie notes that statistics reflecting violence against children can be much higher when exposure to violence is considered.
“Since exposure to violence has often been seen as an indirect form of abuse to children, the impact on them has not been fully acknowledged. Many children are the silent victims and witnesses of domestic violence,” explains Korkie, adding that the term ‘witness’ was recently changed to ‘exposed’ in South Africa, “which is a more inclusive description”.
Far reaching implications
The implication is, continues Korkie, that “watching or hearing the violent incident, direct involvement – by trying to alert someone to assist – or experiencing the aftermath of the event,” is considered violence against a child.
In January of this year (2022), this change was made in one of three amendment bills signed into law by the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa. The Domestic Violence Amendment Bill expands the definition of domestic violence to include spiritual abuse, elder abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour and exposing children to such behaviour.
Children who are exposed to violence show similar disturbances as children who themselves have been direct victims of abuse, notes Korkie, citing recent research.
“Research indicates that children exposed to domestic violence are at serious risk for long-term physical, emotional and behavioural problems, which can include conditions such as depression, diabetes, poor self-esteem, and others. Children also respond differently to the exposure where some are more resilient, and others more sensitive.”
Assisting children who have been directly exposed to violence, A21, a global anti-human trafficking nonprofit organisation, told Petra that violence and abuse can cause severe trauma which can have physical (bruises, cuts, burns) and emotional effects (low self-esteem, anxiety, sleep disturbances) on children.
Are healing and recovery possible?
Children can recover from a violent past, especially through early childhood interventions.
Korkie points out: “Although children exposed to domestic violence might never forget what they experienced, they can learn healthy ways to deal with their trauma. And the sooner a child receives help, the better his chances are of becoming a healthy adult. Good support systems and meaningful relationships with other adults can make a measurable difference for these children.”
She continues by highlighting education about violence as a means to teach a child to identify incidents where violence is committed against him or her or against someone else. In conjunction with education, she also emphasises the importance of children having access to trauma counselling.
Petra Institute Course: Walking with Wounded Children
CRN uses Petra’s specialised course, Walking with Wounded Children, to help children recover from trauma.
“In the refugee camps in Uganda, the Walking with Wounded Children workshop has been successfully implemented. Theunis and Magda Scheepers facilitated this workshop with South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and trained several of the community leaders to continue the trauma healing work with children in the camp,” explains Korkie.
She concludes that as children mature, they can also intentionally pursue healing, and healthy friendships, including their relationship with the never-failing God, our Father, through Jesus Christ.
The Walking with Wounded course is also being used to reach children in war-stricken Ukraine and Ethiopia. Dirk briefly touches on how it is being utilised in these countries, and elsewhere.