‘Don’t look away: act against abuse’

24 November 2010

Speaking ahead of the launch of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, the minister responsible for women and children has urged South Africans to do more to reverse the scourge of domestic violence in the country.

Briefing journalists in Cape Town on Tuesday, Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana said her department was concerned over the increase of contact crimes against women and children.

The number of cases of attempted murder against children – most of them aged between 15 and 17 years old – had increased from 782 to 1 113, while cases of murder of children had risen from 843 to 965 from 2009 to 2010.

“In addition, child welfare organisations are reporting an increase in the number of abandoned children, including here in the City of Cape Town,” she said.

She said her department was in the process of conducting a study looking at why certain people murdered children, by questioning inmates in prison sentenced for such crimes.

The 16 Days of Activism Campaign, an international initiative endorsed by the UN, runs from 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through to International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

‘Don’t Look Away’

This year’s campaign, themed “Don’t Look Away, Act Against Abuse”, will be launched by President Jacob Zuma at OR Tambo Hall in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on Thursday.

The launch will focus on the effects that alcohol and drugs have on abuse against women and children.

Xingwana said that according to the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Tracker Survey, released last year, the 16 Days initiative was the second most well known government event after the State of the Nation Address.

The survey also revealed that awareness of the campaign in rural areas had risen from 9 percent in 2003 to 33 percent last year.

Rights of children

Xingwana said that as part of the campaign, her department would be organising a meeting of children’s rights organisations to look into the rights that are afforded to children through various pieces of legislation.

She said the process had become even more urgent following the incident at Jules High School in Johannesburg, where a girl was filmed allegedly having sex with two boys.

The department is also concerned that there may still be people in possession of cellphone video clips recorded during the incident. “That video clip constitutes child pornography, and production and/or possession of child pornography is illegal,” Xingwana said.

Forced marriages

The minister said the department had also received increased reports about forced marriages involving children, under the age of 16, which was statutory rape.

She said parents often actively took part in arranging these weddings, as they stood to benefit from the lobola when such a wedding took place, adding that she had worked with the district mayor in Eastern Cape’s OR Tambo District, where it was very common.

The department also planned to visit the province on this issue, but Xingwana added that the Office of the Premier in the Eastern Cape was running workshops with traditional and religious leaders to tackle the issue.

‘Witches’ and widows

The department was also looking at the issue of witchcraft, which she said was a “backward cultural practice” that often saw old women being targeted as witches and killed.

She said the department was also working with non-governmental organisations and other departments on the rights of widows, as some widows lost their rights in the community and had their property confiscated when their husbands died.

Preventative strategies needed

Colleen Morna, executive director of Gender Links, said there was a need to develop more preventative rather than reactive strategies for combating abuse against women and children.

She said the country also needed to set up a structure for addressing gender violence which brought together business, civil society and government, similar to the South African National Aids Council.

Morna said civil society would be involved with various events during the campaign and emphasised that a big focus would be on women speaking out on violence.

Gender Links has also arranged for men who are ex-perpetrators of violence against women to speak out during the campaign.

Gender Violence Prevalence Study

The preliminary results from Gender Links’ Gauteng Gender Violence Prevalence Study found that 51 percent of women in Gauteng experienced violence in their lives and 18 percent had experienced violence in the last 12 months.

“Even more shocking is the fact that 78 percent of men in the province admitted to perpetrating those crimes women said they were experiencing,” Morna said.

She said 33 percent of women in the survey reported having experienced physical violence, with 25 percent having experienced sexual violence.

According to the survey, only one in 25 of rapes had been reported to the police.

Women in prison

Also speaking at the briefing, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the past decade had seen a significant increase in the number of women in prison in the country, with many of them jailed for killing their spouses after finding themselves trapped in abusive relationships.

She said that about 2 percent of inmates were currently women.

The department had commissioned the SABC’s Special Assignment to do a series on women who find themselves in conflict with the law after experiencing abusive relationships, with the first episode to air on 23 November.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the message was not to wait until it was too late. “It is better to leave an abusive relationship or marriage than to stay until you are killed or until you kill your partner and end up in prison”.

She pointed out that many female prison officials continued to work under dangerous conditions, and said the department would also be increasing awareness among both officials and offenders about gender violence.

The minister said her department had taken a decision to create dedicated correctional facilities for women, and that any new prison would have to have dedicated sections for women.

“Our new generation facilities in Kimberley, as well as two public-private partnership model facilities, are populated with men, while women remain in old dilapidated facilities, at times with very little service,” she said.

Source: BuaNews