More children are being killed in the Western Cape than in any other province in South Africa. In 2017 and 2018 alone, 279 children were murdered in the province according to police statistics.
“One of the reasons why the Western Cape has such a high number of child killings is because existing research and proven interventions are not being used as they should to develop and implement policies and strategies for violence prevention and response that will help bring an end to child murders," says Dr Chris Jones from the Unit for Moral Leadership in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU).
Jones was part of a research committee comprising academics from SU, and the Universities of Cape Town and the Western Cape that looked at, among others, primary drivers of child murders in the province; gaps in existing government services; and the potential value of instigating a commission of inquiry or some other mechanism. The committee was formed after the Cape Town-based Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture approached the Western Cape government to look into the spate of child murders over the last few years, especially during 2017 and 2018. Robert Macdonald co-ordinated the research on behalf of the Western Cape government, which adopted all the committee's recommendations.
In a recent article in the journal HTS Theological Studies, Jones discusses the committee's findings and recommendations, saying the aim is to provide well-researched information to role-players and decision-makers regarding the lives of children to address the violence and its causes that so many children (and women) are exposed to.
Looking at murders of children under one year of age and those aged 1–9 and 10–17 years, Jones says the committee found that the majority of murders in the first category are committed by mothers through “baby-dumping" or inflicting of fatal injuries.
“The most important contributing factors of murders in this age group have to do with maternal mental health, for example, postnatal depression; poor or lack of parenting skills, particularly among very young mothers; and lack of material and emotional support to new mothers from the father, family, community and the state."
Jones points out that key contributing factors leading to child murders among 1–9-year-olds are dysfunctional families as well as a culture of violence that is fed by mental health disorders, drug and alcohol use, poor coping and relationship skills among families and cycles of abuse.
“Most of the same contributing factors apply to child murders among 10–17-year-olds, but in addition the following become significant: the child's own risk behaviour and mental health – for example, participation in gangs, crime, substance abuse and dropping out of school."
Regarding the committee's recommendations, Jones says the most important one is the formulation of a provincial plan of action to address gaps, incorporating the recommended actions for each of the three main age categories.
“A plan with geographic data to identify hot spots and key agencies at local level must be augmented and internationally accepted measures to prevent violence against children can be explored to see what may be adaptable in South Africa."
There's also a need for dedicated gang units or similar mechanisms to counter gang activities, adds Jones.
He says the committee highlighted the important role that the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development, Child Protection Services, the South African Police Service, National Prosecuting Authority and schools can play to prevent child murders.
“Policy-makers and other decision-makers should use their power to transform the unfortunate and unsafe circumstances in which many children find themselves."
As far as a commission of inquiry into child murders in the province is concerned, Jones says the research committee found there's no need for such a commission.
“Because such a commission is not binding, it risks being a long and expensive process that may not yield results, and it could be very divisive and combative between the different role-players, particularly between the Province and criminal justice agencies.
“Although criminal justice issues could merit a commission of inquiry according to the research committee, other government deficiencies are, however, within the management competency of the Province and can therefore be addressed without needing a (further) judicial lever."
Jones says an important aspect that could be researched and developed further is “the link between underperforming schools and socio-economic dysfunction, and how it impacts children and their safety and well-being".
- Reference: Jones, C., 2019, 'Child killings in the Western Cape', HTS Teologiese Studies/ Theological Studies 75(1)
FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES ONLY
Dr Chris Jones
Unit for Moral Leadership
Faculty of Theology
Tel: 021 808 9224
Tel: 021 808 4921