Never ignore a suspicion

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Our Reporting Obligations

Our research shows that child abuse and neglect is largely underreported in the Eastern Cape. There are a host of reasons for this, but among the factors contributing to low levels of reporting are young children’s lack of capacity and their ability to report abuse to the appropriate authorities, fear of being harmed or causing harm to people close to them, and the social acceptance of certain practices such as corporal punishment and sexual harassment.

Given that child protection is each and everyone of our responsibility, it is imperative that the Grahamstown community members both individually and collectively understand the obligation of all South Africans to report child abuse and neglect together with the practical how and where to report a case of suspected child abuse.

The Children’s Act (“the Act”) and the Sexual Offences Act provides for mandatory reporting obligations to report abuse. Failure to report is a criminal offence in terms of the Act.

The mandatory reporting obligations compel certain categories of individuals  (such as, correctional officers, dentists, homeopaths, doctors, ministers, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, religious leaders, social workers, speech therapists, teachers, traditional healers, attorneys, labour inspectors etc.) to report any physical abuse causing injury; sexual abuse; and deliberate child neglect. An official report from an individual listed in the Act must be based on a conclusion that the abuse or neglect has occurred not simply on mere speculation. A person should however never ignore suspicions, as a rule of thumb always believe the child. The required format for reporting is the Form 22 – Reporting of abuse of deliberate neglect of a child, and this form can be downloaded, or you can request a copy from the local Child Welfare or Department of Social Development office.

In addition to the above three circumstances, there are many other circumstances that may leave a child in need of care and protection. In these circumstances anyone may report the abuse. The Act provides that a child is considered to be in need of care and protection if, for example, the child has been abandoned or orphaned and is without visible means of support; lives or works on the street or begs for a living; is addicted to a substance and without support to obtain treatment; lives in or is exposed to circumstances which may seriously harm the physical, mental or social wellbeing of the child; and where the child is in a state of physical or mental neglect.

Should you discover a child in these circumstances you must report it to either a designated child protection organisation such as Child Welfare, the Department of Social Development or the South African Police Services (Tel: 046 603 9111 or 10111) . You will be required to complete a form and a social worker will be assigned to do an investigation into the circumstances of the case. It is a simple and quick process that serves to immediately place the child in a position where he or she has support and access to services. Never hesitate to do the right thing!

Our article today serves largely as an awareness brief and we urge all individuals to seek the assistance of either the Grahamstown Child Welfare Office at 1 Coles Lane (Children 0 to 10 years), Tel: 046 636 1355 or the Department of Social Development in Grahamstown (children 11 to 18 years), Tel: 046 602 3300, should any further guidance be required.

It is a frightening reality that any child is open to abuse, as parents we are not able to be with our children all the time. The question left on the tips of our tongues is how then can children be protected? In our next article we will look at why children are often innocently drawn into abusive situations, the link between socialisation and child safety and what steps we, as parents and members of our community, can take to educate and protect our children.

  • This is the third in a monthly series about the work Child Welfare does in Grahamstown.
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