All children are vulnerable to abuse. Child protection extends further than services that intervene in situations where a child is at risk of or experiencing harm. Ensuring the safety of children is a legal and ethical concern of all who interact professionally or personally with children. Child protection provides an opportunity to unpack and understand why a child’s safety is so important. Child protection week aims to create awareness across society to better ensure the protection and care of children.
What is Child Protection?
Child protection means protecting a child from neglect or abuse. This includes the risk or likelihood of neglect or abuse. Thus, protecting a child can be preventative; therefore, harm does not need to occur for action to be taken.
What is Child Abuse?
Abuse can happen in numerous ways. For a child, it could mean exploitation, sexual violation, experiencing acts of violence or emotional stress.
6 Types of Abuse
- Physical Abuse: When someone’s body is hurt by another person such pain, markings or injury occurs. For example: hitting, shaking, burning, biting, or choking.
- Emotional (Mental) Abuse: Non-physical actions which result in control, isolation or making someone afraid. Such as manipulation, insults, humiliation, and intimidation. Bullying is also a form of mental abuse.
- Sexual Abuse: Any sexual activity that happens without consent. Included are sexual acts which involve minors, unwanted touching, forced oral sex and rape.
- Online Abuse (Cyber Bullying): Online messaging that bullies or hurts someone. This includes inappropriate images and videos.
- Neglect: A lack of sufficient food, clothes, access to medical care or schooling, inadequate shelter and lack of supervision.
- Domestic Violence: Violence between two adults who have a close relationship. This type of abuse can be second-hand. In other words, because someone witnessed the abuse or as a result of proximity them being hurt.
Where Does Child Abuse and Neglect Occur?
Abuse is most common in situations in which a child should be protected. Often from those people that a child trusts most. For example, at home or at school. Additionally, humanitarian situations such as natural disasters or armed conflict, tend to make children particularly vulnerable to abuse. Harmful cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or child marriage, are often also considered forms of child abuse.
The Effects of Child Abuse
Abuse can result in physical, emotional, and psychological problems. The resulting challenges can vary from survivor to survivor depending on the context of their experience(s). Abuse can have a significant and lifelong impact on a child.
10 Consequences of Child Abuse
- Low self-esteem.
- Increased fear, guilt and self-blame.
- Distrust of others and inability to form meaningful relationships.
- Mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and eating disorders.
- Practicing self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
- Developmental delays.
- Cognitive challenges, such as learning problems.
- Behavioural issues, e.g.: aggression and violent tendencies.
- Substance abuse.
- High-risk behaviours.
Child Protection Laws in South Africa
The mandate to protect children in South Africa is enshrined in Article 28 of the Constitution. Additionally, the Children’s Act (Act No. 38 of 2005) gives effect a child’s constitutional rights and protections. It enforces international child protection rules and standards within the country. While also outlining the duties and powers of those in authority. The Children’s Act was updated via the Children’s Amendment Act (Act No. 41 of 2007).
Unpacking the South African Child Protection Act
- Prohibits child abuse, for example, exploitative labour.
- Requires child carers to provide clothing, food, and medical assistance.
- Imposes a legal requirement for any individual who examines, attends, or deals with a child to report suspected or proven malnutrition deficiency disease, deliberate neglect, physical injury or sexual abuse and offences against children.
- Provides for discretionary reporting where a child is reasonably suspected of needing care and/or protection.
How Does Protecting Children Apply to You?
It is illegal in South Africa to not report a suspected violation of protection or care. Therefore, child safety is the responsibility of anyone who has dealings with a child. Practically, this means safeguarding children from abuse and maltreatment and preventing health and development harm. Essentially, it is about ensuring children grow up with effective care so that they are physically and emotionally safe.
What Services Protect Children?
Within South Africa there are government and non-government services which protect children. These services assess if a child needs to be removed from a situation or if a situation can be remedied. If a child needs to be removed, they will be taken to a place of care.
- Childline South Africa: 0800 055 555
- ACVV Social Work and Child Protection:
- South African Police Service (Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigations)
- Emergencies or to report a crime call 10111
- Contact Your nearest Police Station
- Contact (FCS) Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigations
- Department of Social Development 24-hour call centre (support and counselling for gender-based violence by social workers):
- Toll-free: 0800 428 428 (0800 GBV GBV)
- Cell phone (free call): *120*7867#
How to Help Protect Children
SACAP’s Social Work and Community Development Facility has a focus on growing skillsets which uplift mental health care and community development. Courses are guided by principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversity. They are designed to assist graduates to promote social change and empowerment of people and promote socio-economic development. Contact an admissions officer for further information or apply online today.