Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
South Africa is faced with one of the highest levels of child abuse in the world, manifested through cases of child neglect, rape, domestic and other forms of related violence. Many children suffer untold and sometimes irreversible harm at the hands of abuse perpetrators, as cases of child sexual abuse are both becoming more prevalent and increasingly happening to younger children. Print and electronic news abound with stories of children who are brutally raped and maimed.
The 2010/11 statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS) record a total of over 50 000 crimes against children for 2010/11. More than half (52%) of all reported crimes against children were sexual in nature. Unfortunately, in many cases the age of the reported victim is not known. If one accepts the patterns shown where ages are reported, most reported crimes against children are perpetrated against children between the ages of 15 to 17 years (55% of murders, 60% of attempted murders, 71% of assault with grievous bodily harm, 63% of common assault and 40% of sexual offences). However, 61% of the children who endured sexual offences were under the age of 15 years and over a quarter (29%) was between 0 and 10 years. While the reported rates of crimes against children are extremely high, many incidents go unreported. The hidden nature of violence against children arises, among others, from the fact that young children usually lack the capacity to report violence and many others may fear further harm by the perpetrator or may worry that interventions by authorities may make their situation worse.
Independents reports from various CSOs and academic researchers have come to similar and even more daunting conclusions. A report compiled by Solidarity Helping Hand said that while there were about 60 cases of child rape in South Africa every day, more than 88% of child rapes were never reported. This means that about 530 child rapes take place every day: one rape every three minutes. In a survey conducted among 1,500 school children in Soweto, a quarter of all boys interviewed said that jackrolling, a term used in the townships to describe gang rape, was fun. Indeed, another research showed that 26-30% of adolescents reported that their first sexual encounter was forced. If we now look at the statistics from CSOs which serve children, it’s even more appalling: 43% of all cases in which Childline South Africa is involved are those of sexually abused children.
Child abuse occurs across all socio-economic levels, but around the world poverty has been found to be associated with child abuse. Risk factors related to poverty and social inequality, such as income inequality, low economic development, health inequities, and high levels of gender inequality are strongly associated with violence. In South Africa, income inequality – one of the key determinants – is particularly high. Unemployment and poverty affect children both directly and indirectly. For example, high levels of unemployment and poverty can cause family stress and frustration which, in turn, can result in punitive behavior towards children as well as abuse. Overcrowding, which is often associated with poverty, can also place children at risk of violence and, in particular, of sexual abuse. In fact, the overwhelming majority (84%) of rapes where the victims are children are perpetrated by males who are known to the victim. Similarly, the 2005 National Youth Victimization Survey found that 88% of sexual assault victims knew their perpetrator. More specifically, 29% of perpetrators were friends or acquaintances of the victim and 11% were relatives or household members. The 2008 National Youth Lifestyle Study found that 24% of the sexual assaults (including rape) reported by young people took place in the respondent’s home.
Furthermore, inadequate resources, infrastructure and services can contribute to higher levels of violence in communities. In addition, community tolerance of violence socializes children into violent behaviors. This means that not just the family, but the community and society at large are also part of the problem and therefore must also be part of the solution. Nevertheless, even with this understanding, the country’s response to this problem has been mostly given in silos: children are treated after the crime has already occurred, families are not engaged unless the perpetrator is identified, to which the response will de individual and punitive; and, to the full extent, society at large is watching the horror passively and doesn’t see itself as part of the problem or the solution. The reactive and punitive approach leads society to often, and justifiably, call for harsher sentences, more prisons, more laws, and even the castration of abusers, to mention a few, but these measures, necessary as they may be, can be likened to putting “paint over cracks”. This is why the gross majority of the reactive services, including the treatment of victims, are always dealing with the tip of the iceberg and not the root causes of the problem.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
South Africa is faced with high levels of child abuse manifested through cases of child neglect, rape, domestic and other forms of related violence, earning it the disheartening nickname “the rape capital of the world”. It is commonly known that this is a very complex problem, with a multitude of underlying causes, especially social and economic. However, most attempts to solve this problem concentrate on dealing with the effects and results of the abuse, which, although necessary, does not solve the underlying problems that cause child abuse in the first place. Realizing that, Nobs created an organization called Community-based Prevention and Empowerment Strategies in South Africa (COPESSA), which uses community engagement and participatory strategies to identify specific social ills that fuel child abuse and thereby develops initiatives to address them.
COPESSA uses an Ecological Model, which deals with child abuse on four levels of attention: primary (making sure abuse does not happen); secondary (early detection and early response to stop further perpetration); tertiary (rehabilitation) and quaternary (care & support with further training for the care-givers). Each main target population in this model are, respectively: the child (at the centre), then the family, then the community and, finally, a the broader level, society at large. Each level therefore involves specific activities and projects that engage both the potential victims and perpetrators, including all stakeholders as part of the solution. Some of the projects that COPESSA has helped the community develop at primary prevention level (to bridge the social divide between men, women and children and provide income generation alternatives for economic empowerment) are: children safe Play Parks, an out-door community gym, a community library, community gardens, brick-making and craft projects, among many others. Each of these responds to specific needs identified within the community (eg. lack of safe spaces for children to play, illiteracy and lack of knowledge on child abuse, unemployment and financial insecurity) and the implementation is done by the beneficiaries themselves with the help of COPESSA. Further, COPESSA offers research, training and awareness programs at primary level; clinical and therapeutic support programs at secondary and tertiary levels and support& further education for the caregivers at quaternary level, which complement the model.
Since COPESSA started operations in 2004 in Soweto, it has engaged with 2,650 direct beneficiaries with primary level community development programs and 3,500 people with secondary and tertiary level programs, and a total of over 15,000 indirect beneficiaries. Nobs has worked with UNICEF and social development specialists from the University of Witwatersrand to develop communication and measurement tools to compile guidelines and best practices from the operation in Soweto and use them as a scaling strategy to other provinces in South Africa facing similar challenges.