Thinkfest! Spotlight: The rights and responsibilities of children

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The sexual abuse of children has escalated over the years, with children as young as five becoming victims of rape. In many cases, this is linked to negligence on the part of their parents or legal guardians. It is no longer safe for children to play outside on the streets without a responsible adult keeping an eye on them.

“Mothers or legal guardians who neglect children should also be held accountable for the sexual abuse inflicted on their children,” proposes Advocate Nicola Turner in her talk titled Children: Rights and Responsibilities.

Her suggestion may seem controversial, but Advocate Turner, a Senior State Advocate in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Grahamstown, has specialised in the prosecution of child rape for the past 25 years and draws upon her extensive experience.

Many of these cases involve an adult being negligent, she says, giving an example of a parent who is intoxicated and unaware of the whereabouts of their child, which leads to predators taking advantage of the situation.

Relying on the criminal justice system alone, stresses Advocate Turner, to turn the tide on sexual abuse is not enough. Parents need to set good examples and boundaries for their childre, and watch closely for any suspicious behaviour that may indicate a problem.

Advocate Turner also emphasises the significance of children’s responsibilities: in certain situations, they are be expected to exercise caution themselves. One example is underage drinking, which is common in South Africa. Children who abuse alcohol and go to taverns should refrain from indulging in this behaviour for their own safety.

This is not to say that infant victims are in any way to blame. It is just a call to be hyper-vigilant in the face of the high levels of violent crime in our society. When people are intoxicated, they are not always alert, and as a result are at higher risk of being taken advantage of sexually.

Advocate Turner emphasises the trauma that rape causes and how it can impact children’s performances at school. With the absence of appropriate family-care, academic difficulties can lead to intervention to social services. Rape victims are then taken to Child Welfare, where they will receive counselling in order to try and rebuild their self-esteem.

This is a difficult but thought-provoking session that is recommended for anyone with an interest in the care of our children.

Advocate Nicola Turner will be presenting on the subject again on 5 July at 1pm at Nompumelelo Hall

By Sinethemba Witi and Nelly Zulu

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