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Care for abused children weakens when it is most needed Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by TellUs, Jul 1, 2007
Health , Human Rights   Short Stories
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The ongoing migration of Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units (FCS) out of specialised locations to ordinary police stations is doing nothing to help young survivors of violence. In a country with pervasive problems of family violence and child abuse, we must be sure that only the most effective strategies are in place to provide care and counselling of survivors, as well as successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Research suggests that in South Africa child abuse occurs every 8 minutes and child rape every 24 minutes. In one township one third of all girls said their first sexaual experienced had been rape or forced sex and two thirds said they had experienced sex against their will. The fact that the child knows the perpetrator 85-90% of the time further complicates the issue.
At a meeting organised by the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria in May 2006 with various role-players in the child protection field, senior officials from the Department of Safety and Security announced a decision to move child protection officers to police service stations, under the supervision of the station commissioners. This is in line with the Department’s policy of “migrating” the staff of all specialised units to station level, with the state goal of improving service delivery to all communities.

Little or no consultation had taken place within the network of service providers in the child protection field and indeed with lower level representatives of the South African Police Services itself.

Participants at this meeting pointed out that this would have a marked impact on and require changes to the National Child Protection Strategy (just finalised with SAPS participation) and the Provincial Child Protection Protocols, the contracts of agreement between the role-players in the child protection system that enable the caring and effective inter-sector provision of services to abused children.

There was no response to this request. In September 2006, at less than a week’s notice to their own staff, FCS unit staff members in Guateng were given instructions to report to various cluster police stations in order to effect the new policy of “migration.”

According to research conducted by the Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament whose portfolio is safety and security, “there are 36 cluster stations across Guateng to which family violence, child abuse and sexual assault cases must now be referred. In only three of these stations can it be said that FCS officers are able to offer the same level of service they had been able to offer previously. The failure of the “migration” is indicated very strongly by the fact that these three stations are the only ones where officers had not been moved from their original locations.”

Both non-governmental organisations and state partners in the field of child protection report that the situation is chaotic. The migration has meant that children, families, child protection workers are having problems locating investigating officers, dockets, and obtaining information about the progress of the case.

Some of the stations that have the highest numbers of reported abuse have no FCS officers allocated to them, for example Booysens Police Service Station. In stations where there is an FCS officer, there is mostly a lack of resources to enable appropriate management of cases: in some police stations, officers are sharing spaces, resulting in a lack of privacy when interviewing victims.

In one instance, 5 officers were sharing one office with 2 desks and 3 chairs. In some stations, there is a shortage of crime kits, as well as a lack of storage space for dockets.
Untrained officers are allocated child abuse cases that require specialised skills for appropriate management.
Even more concerning is the lack of joint planning with partners in the child protection field. This move caught civil society organisations, the Department of Social Development and other partners by surprise and they are struggling to locate the investigating officers of children with whom they are working.

Applause must be given to those non-governmental organisations and state department staff who have immediately responded in a positive way to limit the negative impact of this “migration” by providing a hurriedly put together basic training to untrained police personnel managing child abuse matters.

Child protection workers appeal to the Department of Safety and Security to delay rolling out this “model” of response to victims of child abuse and sexual assault until an evaluation of its effectiveness and efficiency. If roll-out is to occur, we appeal to the Department to ensure that there is adequate preparatory planning with the network of service providers before the migration actually takes place in order to prevent the chaos that resulted from the process in Gauteng.

Child protection is not the responsibility of a single sector but rather the shared responsibility of a number of sectors and civil society collectively. When one partner acts alone and without consultation with partners in child protection, this disrupts the chain of service delivery and protection, meaning children who are placed further at risk.

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